GREENWICH — Don’t mess with family. Stand up for family.
That was Greenwich coach John Marinelli’s pointed and not so subtle message following tonight’s 49-13 win over New Britain in the Class LL quarterfinals, the first step toward returning to the championship game.
Marinelli was irritated by an article in a New Britain paper that alluded to his quarterback, Gavin Muir, occasionally being unwilling to check down and instead going for the home run ball.
Muir’s best response were his three touchdown passes and scoring run, part of 49 unanswered points after an early 7-0 deficit.
Muir’s second-best answer: “Maybe they don’t have all of our film.”
No wonder Muir is being so heavily recruited by Ivy League schools.
Actually, Muir was undaunted by the critique, despite the text message from Marinelli and the clipping the coach put on his locker, with the word unwilling in large bold letters.
“I really didn’t take that to effect the way I played but I knew they didn’t think I’d go short and I used that to my advantage,” Muir said. “I took it more as a shot at me but it didn’t anger me at all. It was just I have to go out and play my game and let the scoreboard talk.”
Marinelli was somewhat more outspoken on the subject.
“Don’t call out my players in the media,” Marinelli said. “And you can quote that. Because I’m very protective, especially of kids who do it the right way. Gavin’s a great kid and he can do everything like you saw tonight and I hope they write that up there.”
If Marinelli was a little ornery, he had good reason. After practice yesterday the Cardinals learned that the father of senior lineman Andrew Frost had passed away. Frost was given the game ball and hugged by teammates and coaches afterward.
Marinelli said before kickoff it had been difficult, trying to find the right balance of emotional support and game preparation.
The Cardinals turned the ball over on their first possession, leading to Shawn Robinson’s 3-yard touchdown run for the Hurricanes.
“I’m not surprised we started a little sluggish,” Marinelli said. “We had a pretty rough 24 hours. They could have easily went in the tank. The emotional rollercoaster that these kids and these coaches and our parents have been on, they keep on playing. They played for (Frost), they played for each other and my message was I don’t want to advance, I want to have this family together for another week because that’s the greatest therapy right now. And the kids showed up and they played and absolutely dominated a very good New Britain team.”
Marinelli’s voice broke. He takes the family concept seriously, whether it is getting one player through a tragedy or standing up for another.
The three-hour game was a respite for the Cardinals (11-0), the No. 1 team in the polls and second in the Class LL seedings.
Special teams — a punt to the New Britain 2-yard line — served as a catalyst when the Cardinals’ Larry DeLuca recovered a fumble in the end zone on the next play to tie the game at 7-7.
Then Muir went to work. After a 25-yard run — he is pretty nimble with his feet as well — Muir threw a scoring pass to Lance Large and two to Stephen Bennett.
Muir does indeed throw the long ball, and a bomb to Large, who had four catches for 118 yards, set up a scoring run by Tysen Comizio.
“That was one of the toughest teams we’ve played all year but the way that these kids are on a mission, there was nothing stopping them tonight,” Marinelli said.
The Cardinals were hoping for a chance at Darien, which defeated them in last year’s title game, but the Blue Wave’s three-year run as state champions was ended by Newtown.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Muir said of Newtown. “We know they like running the ball and they have a great running back so we’ll watch some film and come up with a gameplan.”
Greenwich has been motivated most by taking that extra step, meaning a return to the championship and winning the title. Tonight they moved a little closer.
“We’re just checking boxes,” Muir said. “We’ve had goals throughout the season. Undefeated. We checked that box. Now this game, check that box. Now we go on to the next one. I would have liked to get a shot at (Darien), but whatever.”