GREENWICH — It seems almost unfair to accentuate a negative in what was ultimately a 42-7 season-opening victory.
Yes, Greenwich High School, expected once again to be a contender for the Class LL championship, posted a 35-point victory today over rebuilding Trumbull and its new coach, Marce Petroccio.
But there is no getting around one dreadful statistic that will certainly be emphasized this coming week.
Greenwich committed 20 penalties during the game for 187 yards, and that doesn’t include a 15-yard personal foul that was offset by a Trumbull personal foul on the same play. Six of the penalties came on Trumbull’s opening drive, which resulted in its lone score. It was so bad that the Cardinals were even penalized 15 yards for a delay of game infraction before the second half kickoff for arriving late from the locker room.
“It was a sloppy, undisciplined effort,” Greenwich coach John Marinelli said after the game. “We’re not going to win many games if we play like that. We had 14 penalties in the first half. We didn’t have 14 in a game last year! That’s got to change.”
“The penalties killed us,” Cards quarterback Gavin Muir added. “We need to clean that up and work on our discipline. I guess everyone was jittery for the first game. Everyone wanted to hit somebody.”
As distracting as the penalties were, one couldn’t ignore the positives. Muir, who was terrific in leading the Cards last season to a 12-0 start before losing to Darien in the Class LL final, was 14 of 22 for 190 yards and three touchdowns. The ground attack, led by Tysen Comizio, totaled 127 yards and averaged four yards a pop. The defense held Trumbull quarterback Colton Nicholas to 11 of 26 passing for 123 yards and two interceptions, recorded eight sacks and held the Eagles to minus-36 yards rushing and 87 total yards.
OK, it wasn’t 70-16 like last season’s opening win over Trumbull, but it was impressive nonetheless.
“Trumbull is way improved over last year,” Marinelli said. “They’re a player or two away so this is a good win for us.”
This was a 14-7 game until four minutes remained in the first half and that may indeed be a testament to Petroccio, who won 210 games and three state championships at Staples before returning to his alma mater after former coach Bob Maffei stepped down.
“We played hard to the end and that’s a great sign,” Petroccio said. “Greenwich is a super team, we know that and we made some mistakes but for Game 1, it’s fine. We’re going to be fine.”
The Eagles had trouble blocking for Nicholas, who had 10 of his 13 rushing attempts (including sacks) go for negative yardage. But there were signs that the Eagles might improve on their 3-7 mark from 2017. Nicholas showed poise in the pocket despite the pressure, and the defense, led by Danny Giblin, kept the Cardinals from running wild like last year.
“Trumbull is a much better team than they were last year,” said Muir, who tossed all three of his scoring passes in the first half to AJ Barber. “If we can clean up the penalties, we’ll be fine.”
After Greenwich took the early lead on a Muir to Barber 39-yard flea flicker, the Eagles tied it on a penalty-marred drive. Trumbull went 75 yards but 47 came on the penalties. Nicholas capped it with a 20-yard scoring pass to Kyle Atherton (six receptions for 60 yards).
Greenwich took a 14-7 lead when Muir and Barber hooked up again from nine yards out late in the first quarter, but it stayed that way until Ryan Raybuck came up with the play of the game.
On a third-and-5 from the Trumbull 44, Nicholas threw near the Greenwich sideline and Raybuck made an interception and then raced 53 yards untouched for the score that gave Greenwich a 21-7 lead.
“(Nicholas) played very well I thought,” Petroccio said. “That one interception, that’s part of football, but he threw it well, under duress. He’ll be fine.”
The Cards then went for the jugular and recovered the onsides kick at the Trumbull 44. Eight plays later it was Muir to Barber again on a 1-yard shovel pass to make it 28-7.
Comizio ran in from three yards out early in the third quarter to make it 35-7 and Jack Warren wrapped up the scoring with a one-yard dive in the final minute of the third period.
Marinelli emphasized the penalties during halftime but the Cards still committed seven more infractions for 70 yards after halftime. That was acceptable, however, as the Cards kept the Eagles off the board in the final 24 minutes.
“We had three seniors with personal fouls,” Marinelli said. “Seniors. We’re obviously doing something wrong when that happens. But we were able to overcome all the penalties and adversity to win 42-7.”
And that outweighed any negative.