By Dave Ruden
TRUMBULL — Nick Roberts never let the football leave his grasp from the minute he stepped onto McDougall Field on Friday night.
Roberts was gripping a ball in one hand as he paced up and down the sideline. He cradled it during a postgame interview. Most of all, Trumbull High School’s poised quarterback stood tall in the pocket — 6-foot-5 tall — and threw perfect spirals to open receivers roaming the field.
If Greenwich had been able to get the ball out of Roberts’ hand, its all-out-effort might have yielded a better outcome.
Instead, in the FCIAC’s game of the year to date, the Eagles came away with a mouth-opening, jaw-dropping, head-spinning 50-44 win, their fifth in a row.
Call it an AFL throwback game, an old-fashioned shootout, Madden Football — Trumbull coach Bob Maffei’s term — all cliches are applicable.
And in the game within a game, it was Roberts not getting the better of Greenwich’s Austin Longi, who was magnificent in defeat, but playing for a Trumbull team that simply outlasted Longi’s Cardinals to the finish line.
“What a game to watch,” said Maffei after his team improved to 5-1 and served notice that it, too, is still a player in both the conference and state playoff races. “You get into games like that and it is like playing ping-pong, back and forth.”
At a whiplash pace.
Longi, who finished with 337 yards rushing — 219 in the second half — got the first of his five touchdowns to put Greenwich ahead, 6-0. Trumbull scored the next 17 points and held the lead until Longi’s final score gave the Cardinals (3-3) a 44-37 advantage with seven minutes left.
Which is just where Roberts wanted them. He completed a 14-yard pass to Eric Anderson on third-and-14, followed by a 41-yard pass to Quentin Brunetti to set up Marc Cesare’s game-tying 2-yard run.
On a night when there wasn’t a lot of defense, the Eagles came up with two stands when needed most, stopping the Cardinals on a fake punt to take over on their own 49 with 3:09 left. After an incompletion, Roberts hit three straight passes to set up Cesare’s decisive 10-yard run with 1:49 to go. It was the fourth score for Cesare, who finished with 125 total yards.
Trumbull’s defense then made one final stop to preserve the win.
Roberts put up, well, Madden-like numbers: going 28 of 43 for 410 yards, with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Asked why he didn’t give his grip a rest even on the sideline, Roberts smiled and said, “I always have the football. I love the game. I hold onto it all the time, pacing back and forth. I always want another shot.”
Roberts got — and needed — them, because Longi wasn’t going quietly into the night. Looking much the contortionist, Longi twisted and turned out of tackles, creating his own running room when there was none to be found.
“He was like Gumby out there,” Maffei said.
The final score eclipsed Longi’s appreciation of his performance.
“It’s tough,” said Longi, who also had a reception and interception. “It means nothing to me. Having 300 yards means absolutely nothing. I just wanted the W.”
On Greenwich’s penultimate possession, he gained 3 yards on the first carry and was stopped for no gain on the second. It was his last touch of the evening.
“Guess who’s got the ball,” Maffei said of the defensive strategy to key on Longi. “We had to stay out on the edges a little better. We’ve got to play better defense, but Longi is dynamite.”
On a night he carried his team, Longi instead tried to shoulder the blame.
“I tried my hardest,” Longi said. “On the last drive I made a terrible read. I should have taken it outside. It’s just a tough loss.”
Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio, who tried his best to use schemes to get Roberts out of his rhythm, was equally somber.
“They picked up our blitz and did a good job protecting him,” Albonizio said. “We knew if he had time it was going to be a long night. It seemed on third-and-long they got us right where they wanted us.”
While Longi was trying to take the fault, the game’s other protagonist tried to deflect the glory.
“The offensive line did a great job, the receivers did a great job,” Roberts said. “We would be nowhere without them. The defense did a great job in the fourth quarter. This was a lot of fun. It was nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun.”
With that, Roberts slowly walked off into a full-moon-lit night toward the Eagles’ locker room.
Fittingly enough, he was still carrying a football.