MIDDLETOWN — Each of the past four years the New Canaan football team has knocked off the bracket’s top seed on its way to winning the Class L championship.
Tonight the Rams made Middletown victim number five.
Combining a well-balanced offense that picked up 305 total yards and a defense that held the Blue Dragons to just 214, No. 8 New Canaan took down No.1 Middletown, 24-9, in the Class L quarterfinals at Rosek-Skubel Stadium.
In somewhat of a role reversal, the Dragons were flagged 11 times for 100 yards and turned the ball over three times. Meanwhile the Rams, hampered by mental miscues for much of the regular season, committed eight penalties of their own but limited the damage to just 57 yards.
“We did some things today that I’m not too crazy about,” Marinelli said. “But we did enough to take care of business. Middletown is a good football team.”
Sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne had a near-flawless game, completing 15 of 22 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for two scores. Senior Owen Shin picked up 60 yards on 18 carries while junior wideout Quintin O’Connell led New Canaan with six receptions for 75 yards.
With the win — its sixth in a row —New Canaan (9-2) moves on to the state semifinal game for the 13th consecutive year. It will travel to No. 5 Masuk, which beat Fitch, 43-7, in another quarterfinal.
Middletown (10-1) opened the game with a scoring drive as Michael Aresco kicked a 37-yard field goal to give the Dragons a 3-0 lead with 7:31 left in the first quarter.
The Rams answered immediately with a 12-play, 60-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by Pyne on a quarterback keeper, giving New Canaan a 7-3 lead it would never relinquish.
“That’s one thing that we really worked on this year,” Pyne said. “A lot of people said we were a second-half team, so one of the things we wanted to do was come out hot and today we did that.”
Disaster almost struck New Canaan early in the second quarter, as the Rams faked a punt while backed up at their own 2-yard line. Grant Morse’s pass fell incomplete, giving Middletown possession just six feet from the goal line.
The Dragons, however, fumbled the ball back to the Rams on the ensuing play, as Rams linebacker Charlie Hane recovered to preserve the New Canaan lead.
After trading punts for much of the second quarter, the New Canaan offense finally found its rhythm. Pyne hit O’Connell on passes of 20 and 30 yards, highlighting a five-play, 85-yard scoring drive. Senior Justin Greco hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Pyne, extending the Rams lead to 14-3 with 4:29 left in the half.
New Canaan added to that advantage just before the half as Morse booted a 28-yard field goal as time expired, making it 17-3 Rams at the intermission.
The Rams opened the second half with its third straight scoring drive, moving 70 yards in less than three minutes. Pyne capped the seven-play drive off with his second rushing touchdown of the game, from 8 yards out, giving New Canaan a 24-3 lead with 9:17 left in the third.
Middletown countered later in the quarter, as quarterback Stone Belzo hit DeAaron Lawrence on a 10-yard touchdown pass, cutting the New Canaan lead to 24-9 with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter.
That was as close as the Dragons would get.
New Canaan’s defense finished strong, forcing two fourth-quarter fumbles to help the Rams coast to the final gun and hand CCC powerhouse Middletown its first loss of the season.
“We play in a tough league,” Marinelli said. “We are the smallest public school in the FCIAC, so when you’re playing these bigger schools all the time you get used to a certain pace and level of play and I think it shows when you get out of the conference.”