Today’s showdown between unfamiliar FCIAC football powers Greenwich and St. Joseph certainly lived up to the pregame billing, hype and anticipation.
This matchup marked the first time the Cardinals and Cadets met since the 2010 season and this long awaited game between two highly successful squads didn’t disappoint.
The game before a large, Homecoming Day Crowd at St. Joseph’s Dalling Field featured four lead changes, several momentum shifts and wasn’t decided until the final play.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Cadets, who entered the game with 27 straight victories overall, added another win to that eye-opening streak.
Senior quarterback Matthew Morrissey’s 18-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Brandon Hutchison with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter gave host St. Joseph the lead for good in its hard-fought 24-20 win over Greenwich.
The comeback victory raised St. Joseph’s record to 5-0, while Greenwich’s mark dropped to 3-2. The Cardinals have little margin for error the rest of their season if they plan on qualifying for the CIAC Class LL Tournament.
“Losing is never fun, but I’m proud of the kid’s’ effort, they didn’t quit and that’s what you look for,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “You try to get the most out of your players and they left it all out on the field. Unfortunately, a couple of things didn’t go our way and we didn’t come out victorious, but it doesn’t take away from the performance they had.”
Junior quarterback Jack Wilson passed for 159 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Greenwich, which led 7-0 after the first quarter, then trailed 10-7 at halftime. Senior wide receiver Chason Barber totaled five receptions for 51 yards and caught a pair of touchdown passes from Wilson.
“Our effort this game was absolutely outstanding,” Barber said. “I thought we played our hearts out and we just have to keep going. There were a few mental mistakes that we can correct in practice.”
Morrissey threw for a touchdown, ran for a score and passed for 160 yards for the Cadets, who faced deficits for the first time this season.
“They tested our ability and mental skills,” Morrissey said of Greenwich. “There were a lot of fans out here, a big crowd and we’re glad we got the win. We started out a little slow, we’re not used to a close game like this. But we showed a lot of heart to win and we made it happen.”
Trailing 24-20, the Cardinals twice had chances to take the lead down the stretch. Completing passes to receivers James Babb, James Wailgum and Zach Mantione, the Cardinals methodically moved the ball into St. Joseph territory early in the fourth quarter. On a third-down play from the Cadets 26-yard line, sophomore Ethan Long made a diving interception on a Wilson pass that was intended for wideout Logan Galletta, halting Greenwich’s drive.
Late in the fourth quarter, Greenwich drove from its own 42-yard line to the St. Joseph 19, with Wilson again, spreading the ball to his receivers and running for a key first down. Facing a second-down play, the Cards’ drive stalled when sophomore defensive back Dhallas Morgan made a juggling interception on a pass along the left sideline – a play in which he went up in the air for the ball with a Greenwich receiver. The interception occurred with just 1:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“It was very good to play in that tough of a game against that tough of a team,” Morgan said. “Greenwich is a very good football team, they have size, they have players and we’re thankful we got the win. I’m a sophomore and only experiences like this against teams like that will make me better and a better as a football player.”
Greenwich took a 7-0 lead on its second possession. Barber actually scored a touchdown before the Cardinals’ second possession, intercepting a Morrissey pass and sprinting 58 yards for a touchdown. Yet an illegal block penalty nullified the touchdown, but set Greenwich up on its own 37-yard line.
The Cardinals proceeded to march 63 yards in 11 plays, capped by Wilson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Barber in the right corner of the end zone. Junior placekicker Sergot Boone converted the point-after attempt and Greenwich held a 7-0 advantage with 5:27 remaining in the first quarter.
“We had a big defensive stop on the interception, it got called back from the pick six, but we had the momentum going and put together a good drive and scored,” Barber said.
On the ensuing drive, the Cadets embarked on a time-consuming 16-play, 79 yard drive to even the score at 7-7.
Running the Wildcat, junior Tyler DaSilva scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, knotting the game at 7-7 with 9:52 left in the second quarter. Junior Riley Jordan, who rushed for a game-high 73 yards, carried the ball five times during the drive for St. Joseph.
Sophomore Logan Spoelstra booted a 33-yard field goal, putting the Cadets on top, 10-7, at the 5:24 mark of the second quarter. St. Joseph added on to its lead on its first possession of the third quarter, with Morrissey scoring on a 1-yard quarterback sneak, making it 17-7.
Then came the momentum shift. The ensuing kickoff saw junior Logan Galletta catch the ball at the 7-yard line, fake a handoff to Babb, make a couple of moves and dash 93 yards for an electrifying touchdown, bringing the Cardinals to within 17-13.
“I saw a hole, hit it hard, had one guy to beat, I gave him a little fake and I was off to the races,” Gallettta said. “It was an awesome game, this is what you play football for.”
Following Galletta’s kickoff return for a touchdown, Greenwich’s special teams came up big again. Boone’s perfectly placed onside kick was recovered by Greenwich senior John Scarlata, setting the team up at the St. Joseph 40-yard line.
“What a momentum shift in the third quarter with the onside kick,” Morello said. “It’s something we practice. It was by design and it ended up being a great play and Logan Galletta has done so many great things on our special teams this year. Our special teams has been a real spark to the team.”
Once they recovered the onside kick, it took the Cards just three plays to seize the lead. Rolling right to elude pressure, Wilson connected with Barber for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Boone converted the PAT and GHS held a 20-17 edge with 7:02 to go in the third quarter.
The Cadets came back for a second time, however. Morrissey lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone that was snared by Hutchison, putting the home team on top, 24-20 with 3:00 even remaining in the third quarter.
“Playing in close games like that really does test our ability and shows we’re a championship team Morrissey said.
Wilson completed passes to eight different receivers, as Greenwich’s offense looked sharper than it had its previous two games. Greenwich got the ball back with 8.4 seconds remaining in the game for its final possession and had just one play to work with. Wilson was sacked by DaSilva on the game’s last play.
“The atmosphere was great and it was a great game to play in,” Wilson said. “It’s tough to appreciate it after a loss, but it really was a great football game, between two good teams going after it and they just happened to come out on top.”
“We had a big shift in momentum after Galletta took back that kickoff and the onside kick and we scored,” Wilson continued. “They are resilient and they came back, that’s the type of team they are. That’s why they’ve won 28 straight games, because of situations like that, they know how to come back from that.”
Morello said: “We executed our game plan very well. We put some new wrinkles into what we do and I think our identity was more clear this week, it was a big point of emphasis. We still have some things to work on with our pass protection and our progressions, but the guys were in a position to win the game at the end. Jack played his heart out, he needs to know that he’s the reason we were in that game to begin with.”
On defense, senior linebacker Luke Vivier registered six tackles, senior linebacker Luke Ware had 5.5 tackles, junior defensive end Dominic DeLuca registered 4.5 tackles and one sack, Scarlata had four tackles, senior cornerback Tyler Cusimano tallied three tackles and defensive lineman Michael Sinisi recorded two sacks for Greenwich. The Cardinals will look to get back on the winning track when it visits Trumbull on Friday for a 7 p.m. game.
“The adrenaline was running, it just didn’t come out the way we wanted it to,” Scarlata said. “Everybody had a lot of fun today, but it wasn’t the outcome we wanted. We have a lot of things to improve on for next week and we are going to go into next week with a lot of momentum. We’re not going to let this define us and it will give us fuel to come back next week. Obviously, we want to win out.”