New Canaan Football Defeats Wethersfield, Will Face Darien in Class L Final


For a few minutes it looked like déjà vu all over again for the New Canaan Rams.

After seeing an early 21-0 lead over Wethersfield dissipate to 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, the shadow of Thanksgiving’s heartbreaking loss to Darien in the FCIAC Championship seemed to creep across a rain-soaked Dunning Field. Backed up to their own 5-yard line with momentum slipping away, the Rams needed someone to rewrite the script from the Darien game, in which the Rams blew a 21-0 lead en route to a 28-21 loss.

Enter Alex LaPolice.

Aided by huge blocks from fellow senior co-captains Jim Keneally and Frank Cognetta, LaPolice busted into the secondary where he broke free for an electrifying 95-yard touchdown run–his second TD of the game–lifting the Rams to a 27-14 win over a tough and resilient Wethersfield team in Saturday’s Class L Large semifinal.

“They gave us all we could handle. We were just trying to get it out of there and get some room to punt,” New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli told “And all of a sudden he bounces off a couple of guys. Big time players…he made me look good.”

“Without Alex we would not be in the state playoffs,” senior co-captain Zach Allen said. “What he does on offense and defense, it’s just something you have to admire.”

With the victory the Rams advanced for the second straight year to the state championship game. And for the second straight year, they will face arch rival Darien who defeated Naugatuck 42-12 in the other Class L Large semi. New Canaan will now be looking for the same formula as last year, as the 2013 team was able to avenge a Thanksgiving loss and defeat Darien to capture the state championship.

“Playing Darien, that’s what you dream of growing up in New Canaan,” Allen said. “We’re excited. We are just going to clean up some mistakes, and you’re going to see a different team.”

While the Rams’ win over Wethersfield was neither perfect nor mistake-free, it was decisive–at least statistically. LaPolice led a New Canaan offensive effort that outgained the Eagles 404-236. The Harvard-bound receiver caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown but did most of his damage on the ground, gaining 141 yards on eight carries. His long rushing touchdown set a new school record and was the defining moment of the game, sealing the win for the Rams who improved to 10-1 on the season.

Meanwhile the Rams defense did a tremendous job of containing Wethersfield’s elusive quarterback Matt Sanzaro, led by Allen, who was recently named as the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year. The Northwestern-bound linebacker was constantly in the Eagles’ backfield, chalking up 10 tackles, one sack and breaking up several passes with tips–one of which led to a Rams interception–as New Canaan snapped the Eagles’ 18-game winning streak.

“We’ve been working the whole week on containing the quarterback,” Allen said. “We had running backs on the scout team and worked on keeping our rush lanes. That really paid off for us.”

New Canaan looked primed to jump out to an early lead, as the Rams moved the ball to the Wethersfield 7-yard line on their first offensive series of the game. A holding call pushed the ball back to the 20 forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt by Peter Swindell, which sailed wide right.

That was the best scoring opportunity for either team as the first quarter ended with the teams deadlocked at 0-0. But on the Rams’ second series of the second quarter, New Canaan quarterback Mike Collins split Wethersfield’s secondary with a perfect pass, hitting junior receiver Kyle Smith in stride over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown. The Rams led 7-0 with 8:19 left in the half.

After New Canaan’s defense forced Wethersfield to a three-and-out, the Rams struck again. Impressive runs from Frank Cognetta and fellow senior running back Teagan Saitta moved the ball to the Eagles 6-yard line. Collins then found senior receiver Michael Kraus wide open in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead with just over two minutes left in the half.

New Canaan was able to score again on their next possession, a seemingly back-breaking 5-play, 58-yard drive that culminated in a Collins-to-LaPolice hookup with only 2 seconds left in the half. A Matt Cognetta two-point conversion gave New Canaan a comfortable 21-0 lead at the intermission.

Wethersfield would show signs of why it entered the game at 11-0 in the third quarter. Eagles running back Eric Lamore took a sweep around the left end for a 52-yard touchdown to make it a 21-7 game. And after Wethersfield recovered a New Canaan fumble at the Rams 33, Sanzaro hit Kyle Klavins for a 16-yard score, cutting the New Canaan lead to 21-14 and setting the game up for LaPolice’s heroics in his last game at Dunning Field.

“I’ve played here since third grade,” the Harvard-bound LaPolice said. “It’s going to hit me eventually. Right now I’m just excited to get another shot at Darien. But never playing here again–it’s going to be tough. I’m going to miss this place.”

And this place is going to miss him too. Especially after games like today’s.

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*NC—Mike Collins 47-yd. pass to Kyle Smith (Peter Swindell kick)
*NC—Collins 6-yd. pass to Michael Kraus (kick failed)
*NC—Mike Collins 8-yd. pass to Alex LaPolice (Matt Cognetta 2-pt. conversion)
*W—Eric Lamore 52-yard run (Kyle Klavins kick)
*W—Matt Sanzaro 16-yd. pass to Klavins (Klavins kick)
*NC—LaPolice 95-yd. run (kick failed)

Key NC stats:

*Alex LaPolice: 6-134, TD rushing, 3-35, TD receiving
*Mike Collins: 9-22, 123 yds., 3 TD passing
*Kyle Smith: 2-44, TD receiving
*Frank Cognetta: 21-111 rushing
*Zach Allen: 10 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack
*Mike Cognetta: 10 tackles
*Malaki Holan: INT, 3 tackles
*Chris Keeffe: 9 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 sack
*Cass Knox: 9 tackles, 1.5 sacks
*Total Offense: NC - 397, W - 236
*Rushing yards: NC - 274, W - 93
*Total yards: New Canaan 431, Staples 170

*New Canaan has now reached the state championship game for the eighth time in the last nine years. During that span they have won the state title five times.

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