Spencer Williams (#15) had a TD in New Canaan's 44-14 win over Trumbull, Nov. 4, 2016. Credit: Terry Dinan
Ryan O’Connell has unquestionably been New Canaan’s most important player in 2016, leading the team on both sides of the ball and in the locker room all season long. This fact makes the No. 2 Rams’ 44-14 win over Trumbull (5-3) on Friday night all the more impressive considering New Canaan (8-0) played virtually the entire game without its senior co-captain, who was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered on the team’s opening offensive series.
“Other kids just picked it up,” New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli told NewCanaanite.com. “I think that’s why there might be something special here. When you lose a kid like that, it’s truly a team thing.”
Foremost amongst the Rams who stepped up was O’Connell’s younger brother Quintin. The sophomore receiver caught four passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns and added another score on a 65-yard return of a free kick to lift New Canaan over a quality Trumbull team—one that many thought would give the Rams their toughest test of the season.
“We knew we had it in ourselves,” O’Connell said. “We worked hard all week and we knew that the next-man-up mentality would work for us and we’d be able to pull it out. It was a good win.”
The Rams received another solid performance from freshman quarterback Drew Pyne, who completed 16 of 21 passes for 261 yards and three TD’s. Pyne showed an ability to diversify as eight different New Canaan receivers had at least one reception in the game.
New Canaan—who clinched a Class L state playoff berth with the win—was also buoyed by another spectacular defensive performance, holding a high-powered Eagles offense that came into the game averaging more than 35 points per game to just 157 yards of total offense, including negative-six yards rushing. The Rams defense also scored a safety, blocked a field goal and forced two Trumbull turnovers, one of which was a 30-yard return of fumble by junior linebacker Grant Morse.
“They played tough defense tonight,” Marinelli said. “The whole defensive unit—you could see it, the way they make a play and you’ve got 11 guys jumping around, celebrating and congratulating and working together. That’s been a strong point for us all year.”
“We came prepared,” New Canaan senior linebacker and co-captain James Freyre said. “The key was to keep the energy up, we feel like with our guys if we can keep the energy up we can do good things.”
Good things started for New Canaan immediately, as the Rams forced Trumbull to punt, then took their own opening possession 68 yards in 12 plays to the end zone, converting four third downs along the way. Pyne found a wide-open O’Connell over the middle for a 23-yard score and a 7-0 lead with 5:45 left in the first quarter.
After the Rams forced a second Trumbull punt, Pyne and O’Connell connected again. On the first play from scrimmage, the two young New Canaan stars combined for a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown to extend the New Canaan lead to 14-0 with 2:45 left in the first.
On the ensuing possession Trumbull put together its most impressive drive of the first half. The Eagles took advantage of some untimely New Canaan penalties and flipped a Rams interception into a fumble recovery, ultimately setting up with a first-and-goal at the New Canaan 1-yard line.
An illegal substitution penalty and a sack backed Trumbull up to the 16, and after two incompletions the Eagles were forced to attempt a 33-yard field goal. New Canaan sophomore Jack Stewart, however, broke through the line and blocked the kick.
The Rams then drove all the way down to the Trumbull 1-yard line, but a questionable fumble call gave the Eagles possession. Once again, the New Canaan defense stepped up, as Morse and sophomore Garrett Braden dropped Trumbull running back Markeese Woods in the end zone for a safety and a 16-0 lead.
O’Connell took the ensuing free kick 65 yards for an electrifying touchdown, putting New Canaan up 23-0 with 7:32 left in the half.
Morse’s fumble recovery and return for a touchdown gave the Rams a 30-0 lead with 4:16 to go in the first half. The Rams added to their lead just before halftime as backup quarterback Spencer Williams punched in a 1-yard QB keeper for a touchdown and a 37-0 Rams lead.
Trumbull averted the shutout by converting a fourth-and-6 into a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback John McElroy to Danny Hoffman, cutting the New Canaan lead to 37-7 with 6:54 left in the third.
The Rams answered in the fourth quarter as Pyne found Graham Braden for a 5-yard touchdown pass and a 44-7 lead with 9:39 left to play. Trumbull scored a late touchdown as McElroy hit Patrick Daley for a 7-yard score to make it 44-14 with 2:39 left in the game, capping off the scoring in yet another impressive victory for the Rams—who made a huge statement tonight with their biggest playmaker on the sideline.
“We know we’re deep,” Freyre said. “We know it’s a true team game and we’re not playing with one guy, we’re playing with 22. Showing all of that has really helped our confidence.”
*NC - Quintin O'Connell 23-yd. pass from Drew Pyne (Grant Morse kick)
*NC - O'Connell 67-yd. pass from Drew Pyne (Morse kick)
*NC - Safety
*NC - O'Connell 65-yd. kick return (Morse kick)
*NC - Morse 30-yd. fumble return (Morse kick)
*NC - Spencer Williams 1-yd. run (Morse kick)
*T - Danny Hoffmann 25-yd. pass from John McElroy (Ryan Ruff kick)
*NC - Graham Braden 5-yd. pass from Pyne (Morse kick)
*T - Patrick Daley 7-yd. pass from McElroy (Ruff kick)
*Quintin O'Connell: 4-109, 2 TD receiving; 2-79, TD kick returns
*Drew Pyne: 16-21, 261 yds., 3 TD's, INT passing; 7-38 rushing
*Graham Braden: 13-76 rushing; 2-13 TD receiving
*Grant Morse: 6-6 PAT, 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 30-yd. fumble return for TD, safety
*James Freyre: 8 tackles
*Garrett Braden: 8 tackles, sack
*Jak Kircher: 2 sacks, 6 tackles
*Total Offense: NC - 341, T - 157
*Third down conversions: NC - 8 for 13, T - 1 for 14
*Turnovers: NC - 3, T - 2
*Penalties: NC - 10 for 96 yards, T - 9 for 50 yards