Greenwich to face Xavier in Class LL playoffs; FCIAC finals wrapup

The Greenwich High School football team has to quickly put its FCIAC finals loss to Staples behind it, as it will face Xavier in the quarterfinal round of the CIAC Class LL playoffs Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Palmer Field in Middletown.

Coached by Sean Marinan, Xavier has won the Class LL championship the past two years, defeating Staples for the title a year ago, 42-7, and Trumbull in 2010, 24-13. The third-seeded Falcons (9-1) have beaten Fairfield Prep, Shelton, North Haven, Notre Dame-West Haven, Amity, West Haven, Middletown, Hillhouse and Hamden so far this season. Their loss came against Daniel Hand, which has 10 wins on the season.

Greenwich enters this rare matchup against Xavier seeded sixth in the Class LL tournament. The Cardinals (8-1) are making their first appearance in the Class LL tourney since they won the state championship in 2007, downing Shelton, 28-14.

After falling to Staples, the Cardinals vowed to be ready for whoever they faced in the LL playoffs in the quarterfinals.

“We can’t let this hinder us from accomplishing our goals at the state tournament,” GHS senior defensive lineman Pat Callahan said, following Thursday’s 48-30 loss to Staples in the FCIAC final. “We haven’t been to the state tournament in a long time and hopefully, we can go far.”

“We’ll be ready to play on Tuesday,” Cardinals coach Rich Albonizio said.

As for the Thanksgiving Day loss to Staples,  some of the brightest moments for Greenwich came from its special teams. The unit helped keep the Cards in the game against the undefeated two-time defending league champion Wreckers.

Sophomore Austin Longi returned a kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown, and senior Vincent Ferraro had a 58-yard punt return, which set up a touchdown. Sophomore Jack Harrington recovered a muffed punt by Staples, setting up another Cardinals touchdown and senior Alex McGee pounced on a Staples fumble on the game’s opening kickoff.

Greenwich also scored a safety when the ball was centered over Staples quarterback Jack Massie’s head, landing out of the end zone, cutting the Wreckers’ lead to 34-30 late in the third quarter. So the Cardinals’ special teams had a hand in 23 of the 30 points the team scored.

The Cards couldn’t get its passing game going all game, as the Wreckers’ secondary provided strong coverage throughout, while the line put decent pressure on Liam O’ Neil. The Greenwich senior quarterback did manage to scramble for some yards on the ground (7 carries, 60 yards). Senior Alex McMurray ran for 58 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries for GHS, which trailed 34-14 at halftime before running off 16 straight third-quarter points.

“That comeback in the third quarter shows we’re a bunch of fighters,” O’Neil said. “Even when things aren’t going well and you are not having a good game you have to fight to the end.”

On defense, linebacker Kendrick Pozo and Harrington combined on a sack in the first half, and Pozo registered a sack in the second half.

So it’s on to the road for the Cardinals for the Class LL tournament. We’ll, of course, keep you posted throughout their postseason run.

Dave Fierro