Pyne was the first freshman to start at QB for Lou Marinelli in his 35-plus years of coaching the Rams. Credit: Terry Dinan
After last week’s shaky win over Trinity Catholic, the New Canaan Rams were looking a leader who could step up and give a struggling offense an identity, a rhythm and some confidence.
Enter Drew Pyne.
The freshman quarterback solved New Canaan’s quarterback conundrum, completing 20 of 35 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns, rushing for 58 yards and helped lead the Rams to a convincing 41-21 win over Ridgefield Friday night at Dunning Field.
“Just a tremendous job for his first time as a varsity starting quarterback,” New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli told NewCanaanite.com. “He exceeded my expectations for sure. I was totally impressed by him. He made some tough throws, he hung in there.”
The Rams (2-0) also received a huge game from senior co-captain Ryan O’Connell, as the all-purpose running back gained 127 yards on the ground, 124 in the air and scored two touchdowns. New Canaan’s offense—a point of consternation for Marinelli last week—racked up 549 total yards and six touchdowns on the night.
“I’m lying awake at night saying ‘Are we any good? I don’t know,’” Marinelli said. “Last week revolving a lot of guys at quarterback didn’t help us. Hopefully we can settle in now and get better every week.”
Ridgefield (1-1) came into the game with high expectations coming off a huge 46-33 win over Trumbull last week, and for a while it looked like this game would be another barn burner. On the opening drive, the Tigers scored on their sixth play from scrimmage as quarterback Drew Fowler hit Shane Palmer for a 67-yard touchdown, just 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the game.
The Rams answered right back as Pyne—helped considerably by the New Canaan offensive line, which protected the young quarterback all game long—converted a big third-and-7 with a 47-yard pass to senior Jack Rechtermann, setting New Canaan up with a first down at the Tigers’ 34. Five plays later, Pyne floated a perfect strike to O’Connell 33 yards for a touchdown, knotting the game at seven apiece with 7:24 left in the first quarter.
New Canaan’s defense came up with their first of four takeaways on the night as senior co-captain James Freyre picked off a Fowler pass and returned it to the Ridgefield four-yard line. The Rams’ offense was unable to capitalize, as Pyne was pushed out-of-bounds just short of the goal line on fourth-and-goal.
Ridgefield regained the lead with a 27-yard field goal by Petros Papadopoulos with 1:48 left in the first. New Canaan responded several possessions later with an 11-play, 74-yard drive—highlighted by several QB scrambles from Pyne—capped off by a 1-yard plunge by Rams sophomore J.R. Moore, giving New Canaan a 14-10 lead with 6:14 left in the half.
“He [Pyne] did a couple of things that almost gave me a heart attack,” Marinelli said. “But he’s pretty cool under pressure.”
The turning point of the game occurred in the ensuing Ridgefield possession as Fowler was hit hard by New Canaan senior defensive lineman Jack Kircher just as he released a pass. Fowler was on the turf for several moments, and did not return to the game having suffered an apparent shoulder injury.
Backup QB Greg Gatto managed to lead Ridgefield down the field just before the half, setting up a 24-yard Papadapoulos field goal that pulled the Tigers to 14-13 as time expired.
The two teams traded punts coming out of the half before New Canaan mounted the first of three consecutive scoring drives. The Rams converted two third-downs and one fourth-down en route to an 11-play, 80-yard drive. A 4-yard Moore run extended the New Canaan lead to 20-13 with 3:32 left in the third.
After forcing a Ridgefield three-and-out, New Canaan put together a quick-strike five-play scoring drive, moving 66 yards in just 1:50. Pyne hit sophomore Quintin O’Connell over the middle on a crossing route for a 15-yard touchdown and a 27-13 Rams lead with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I was so excited for him, I think I was the first person to give him a hug after he scored,” Ryan O’Connell said of his younger brother. “It obviously meant a lot to him, but it meant a lot to me as well.”
On Ridgefield’s next possession, senior co-captain Tommy Root intercepted a Gatto pass, setting New Canaan up on their own 33-yard line. Six plays later, Ryan O’Connell had the Rams in the end zone yet again with a five-yard run to make it 34-13 Rams with 8:27 left to play.
Senior Jackson Appelt ended Ridgefield’s next two offensive series with interceptions, the second of which set up the final New Canaan score of the night. Senior running back Graham Braden raced 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 41-13 lead with 3:33 remaining in the game.
Ridgefield managed to end the Rams unanswered scoring streak at 27 as Aidan Schwartz ran it in from 13 yards with 23 seconds left to play, capping off the night’s score at 41-21, and sending the Rams home with an impressive win over a quality opponent.
“I’m beyond pleased with what I saw tonight,” Marinelli said. “And the thing I see is that we have so much to improve on. It could be a special year.”
*R - Shane Palmer 67-yd. pass from Drew Fowler (Papadapoulos kick)
*NC - Ryan O'Connell 33-yd. pass from Drew Pyne (Jack Hoelzer kick)
*R - Papadapoulos 27-yd. FG
*NC - J.R. Moore 1-yd. run (Hoelzer kick)
*R - Papadapoulos 24-yd. FG
*NC - Moore 4-yd. run (kick failed)
*NC - Quintin O'Connell 15-yd. pass from Pyne (Hoelzer kick)
*NC - R. O'Connell 5-yd. run (Hoelzer kick)
*NC - Graham Braden 31-yd. run (Hoelzer kick)
*R - Aidan Schwartz 13-yd. run (2-pt. conversion good)