When Greenwich senior cornerback John Scarlata intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown on the opening possession of Saturday’s season-opener against Westhill, it was a prelude of what was to come, as nearly every every drive in the first half ended with a Cardinals score – even when they didn’t have the ball.
The Cardinals reached the end zone on three of its four offensive possessions and also scored two defensive touchdowns in the first half, which saw them amass 35 points on their way to overwhelming the Vikings.
Junior quarterback Jack Wilson completed 10 of 12 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start, junior wide receiver James Wailgum caught two scoring strikes and Greenwich’s defense was dominant throughout in a 49-6 victory over host Westhill in an FCIAC West Division matchup.
Greenwich’s defense set the tone, forcing four Westhill turnovers, while limiting the Vikings to just 59 yards of total offense.
“Any time you can win the turnover battle and turn those turnovers into immediate points, it puts you in a position to be successful,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “It took pressure off the offense. They certainly gave us the jolt we needed to start the season.”
Scarlata and senior defensive lineman Cameron Doyle each returned interceptions from Westhill sophomore quarterback Jordan Reyes for touchdowns during the first half.
“Coach (Bryan) Hocter (defensive coordinator) does an excellent job with the defense,” Morello said. “They put the work in, they always have a new install.”
On the game’s opening possession, Westhill faced a 3rd-and-10 situation when Reyes dropped back to pass and threw a pass in the flat that was intercepted by Scarlata, who sprinted down the right sideline for a touchdown. Junior Sergot Boone converted the point-after attempt and the Cards had a 7-0 lead with 10:11 remaining in the first quarter.
“It felt amazing,” Scarlata said of his touchdown. “The first time they passed it I felt it coming and I jumped it and the ball turned out to be there and I took it to the end zone for six. It gave the ‘D’ momentum for the rest of the game.”
After the Vikings went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, the Cardinals drove 52 yards in five plays for a score the first time they had the ball. Wilson completed a 30-yard pass to senior wide receiver Chason Barber, giving GHS a first down at the Westhill 24-yard line. Two plays later, Wilson completed a pass over the middle to Wailgum, who weaved his way into the end zone, giving the visitors a two-score lead with 5:12 to go in the first quarter.
“We came out firing on all cylinders after Scarlata’s interception,” Wailgum said. “We did what we practiced all week and executed. No interceptions from our quarterback, just touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.”
Wailgum’s touchdown was a play he was thinking about for quite a while.
“The last time I scored a touchdown like this in a game was freshman year, so it was exciting,” he said.
Wilson connected with Barber for a 54-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, giving Greenwich a commanding 21-0 lead. The 6-foot-4, Brown University-bound Barber used his speed to get behind the Vikings’ secondary on his way to hauling in Wilson’s long pass.
“This was a great way for us to start the season,” Barber said. “We had a big showing of fans today, which was great. On offense, we played fast and played hard and executed well.”
Cardinals fans, including a large, enthusiastic student cheering section – the ‘Cardinal Crazies’ – filled the visitors stands. They had plenty more to cheer about after Barber’s impressive touchdown catch. Pressured by junior defensive lineman Dominic DeLuca, Reyes’ pass was intercepted by Greenwich senior defensive lineman Cameron Doyle, who returned the interception 28 yards for a touchdown, making it 28-0 early in the second quarter.
“That’s any player’s dream, especially on the D-Line.,” Doyle said of his pick six. “I was telling the coaches I was hoping to haul one in today and I got it, thanks to the other linemen putting on the pressure. We had two touchdowns on defense and another two turnovers. It felt amazing to be back on the field. I think our Greenwich defense is going to be something.”
Wailgum’s 40-yard touchdown reception off a Wilson pass capped Greenwich’s first half scoring at the 5:39 mark.
“The second touchdown, I dropped the ball two plays before, so I knew I had to score there,” Wailgrum said. “I let my quarterback down, so I knew I had to bring the offense back up.”
Morello was pleased Wilson’s performance at quarterback and with the offense’s overall play. Michael Sinisi, Jake Kiernan and Vincent Insinga were among some of the offensive linemen who ignited the offense.
“Jack made some good decisions and he is developing really well as a quarterback,” Morello said. “The offensive line gave him a nice pocket to work around all day long.”
In the second half, senior Thomas Foster (3 rushes, 51 yards) ran it into the end zone from 1-yard out, after he set the Cards up in the red zone with a long run. Senior defensive back Jake Carifa capped Greenwich’s scoring, running a Westhill squib kick back 61 yards for a score midway through the final quarter.
The Cards showed its depth on both sides of the ball, as numerous athletes made significant plays. Barber caught three passes for 92 yards, junior Logan Galletta had three receptions, Wailgum had the two touchdown catches and senior Zach Mantione had a reception.
David Moodie scored Westhill’s touchdown with 9:39 to go in the fourth quarter. He hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass from Reyes. Greenwich’s defensive line pressured Reyes throughout and made it difficult for the Vikings to generate yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Scarlata and senior Tyler Cusimano helped pace the Cards’ secondary.
“We just came out and wanted to get to the quarterback, because it’s the first time we were allowed to hit the quarterback in two years,” DeLuca said. “We came out and played with a lot of energy.”
Up next for Greenwich is a game against rival Ridgefield on Saturday. The game may be played at New Canaan High School, since Cardinal Stadium’s renovation project is not completed. Final details are still in the works.
“We have a super tough opponent in Ridgefield that we have to get ready for and it should be fun,” DeLuca said.
Said Barber: “We still have a lot of work to do in practice. Our schedule is very tough, so we have to continue to work hard each day.”