38 Special Wins Game For New Canaan

The scene at Uncle Joe’s Restaurant in Norwalk, where the New Canaan High School football staff convenes after games, was raucous last night following the Rams’ dramatic 35-34 win over Greenwich. Suddenly, quiet filled the small bar area when highlights from the contest came on a corner TV set.

“Where’s the end?” someone shouted when it became obvious there was no footage of the closing minutes.

A classic game ended with a classic play, New Canaan’s decision to go for and then complete a two-point play with a minute left and the team trailing, 34-33.

Here’s the story behind the play:

It is called 38 Special and goes back at least until the mid-1970s. It was designed by legendary Staples coach Paul Lane. Bo Hickey, the Rams’ offensive coordinator, was on Lane’s staff for 10 years and gave the play to current New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli.

It has been in New Canaan’s playbook for about 22 years. Marinelli guessed it has been used in games about 6 times, most recently about three or four years ago in a Thanksgiving game against Darien.

The Rams practice the play three times a week, for about 10 minutes each time. This week, Marinelli said, they only worked on it twice.

After Peter Park’s 7-yard touchdown run got New Canaan within a point last night, there was never any doubt what the team was going to do.

Several factors came into the decision. New Canaan’s kicking game has been inconsistent this year, and Collin Shapiro had an extra point blocked following the team’s previous touchdown.

“We wanted to take the pressure off our sophomore kicker,” Marinelli said.

More importantly, the Rams’ philosophy is to play for the win.

So when the Rams huddled before going out onto the field for the conversion, there was no question what they were going to do.

Marinelli said New Canaan had three different plays he could use and had one in mind, but that Hickey suggested using 38 Special, in part because Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio had not seen them run it recently.

The play worked to perfection. Quarterback Turner Baty took the handoff and gave the ball to Willie Ouellette, the backup quarterback. Ouellette rolled out, giving the impression he would throw an option pass. But Ouellette gave the ball back to Baty, who found receiver Kevin Macari wide open in the corner of the end zone.

Marinelli swears he never watched the play. “When the game is on the line I get a glass of water, watch the stands and look at the reaction of the crowd,” he said. “And that’s what I did.”

Hickey will not be happy seeing his name in this posting because, as he repeatedly stressed last night, players win games and coaches lose them. Let’s just say last night was a perfect example of coaches making the right play call and the players executing it.

The game provided the next step of nailing down the finalists for the FCIAC championship. If Staples wins its final two games and the Rams beat Bridgeport Central next week, the Staples-New Canaan rivalry will be renewed in the final. Talk is right now, with Boyle Stadium currently under repair, is of playing the game in Wilton.

But New Canaan is going to have to avoid a letdown against a strong Central team looking to earn its own berth in the championship game.

For the next day or two, the talk will be of last night’s special game.

For New Canaan, it was 38 Special.