By Dave Ruden
TRUMBULL — Will he or won’t he?
He did. And delivered.
All week long, the parlor game was trying to figure out whether Nick Cascione, two weeks removed from a first-half concussion against Wilton, would start at quarterback Friday night for New Canaan in the FCIAC championship game against St. Joseph.
Cascione was indeed under center for the Rams, and though he was rusty at times, he again came through with a winning performance.
On the team’s first play, he hit Kyle Smith for a 76-yard touchdown pass, then pumped his fist skyward.
Cascione threw for 141 yards and a score and ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns to lead New Canaan (11-0) to a 31-20 win, the program’s eighth FCIAC title and first in five years.
“Nick Cascione, coming off the concussion, we didn’t know whether he would play or not,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “For him to do what he did showed a lot of character.”
Cascione, who carried the ball 19 times and took a couple of hard hits, was named the game’s most valuable player.
The Rams’ most consistent player of the night, and the one who has been coming on strong the second half of the season and might be their most underrated player as well, was running back Frank Cognetta.
With a game plan geared toward more of a ground game given Cascione’s uncertain status, Cognetta carried the ball 25 times for 176 yards and one touchdown.
“It was a lot of fun going out there,” Cognetta said of his heavy workload. “All the credit goes to the offensive line. They did a terrific job.”
St. Joseph, which turned the ball over four times in the teams’ first meeting three weeks ago, a 62-21 New Canaan win, did so again Friday night. Two of them led to scores.
Four plays after the Cadets’ Shane Miller intercepted Nick Cascione, their quarterback, Jordan Vazzano, was picked off by Max Wilson. Cognetta soon scored on an 8-yard run that put the Rams in front, 14-7.
In the second half, after Cascione fumbled the ball away on the St. Joseph 8, Michael DiCosmo got the ball back with an interception and returned it 24 yards. That led to Cascione’s 1-yard run off a high snap that put the Rams in the lead for good, 21-14.
New Canaan, which had three turnovers in what was a sloppy game, turned the ball over one other time in the red zone. That was a fumble by Connor Buck on the 1-yard line right before the half. A score would have given New Canaan a 21-7 lead.
Instead, St. Joseph hit a long bomb that led to a touchdown that tied the game at 14-14 at the intermission.
Buck is one of the state’s best defensive players, and applied heavy pressure to Vazzano in the second half. Buck had carried the ball three previous times this season and scored once, but Friday night was probably the last rushing attempt of the senior’s career.
“I don’t think you’ll see that again,” Marinelli said with a chuckle.
While St. Joseph struggled in the second half, it gave a much better representation of its talent level from the first meeting and is going to be a threat to win the CIAC Class M championship.
Mufasha Abdul-Basir rushed for 186 yards in what has been an outstanding season. Though Vazzano had a rough second half, he still finished with 227 yards on just 11 completions.
St. Joseph ended up with 427 yards — 282 in the first half — against what many consider the state’s best defense.