SANDY HOOK – Friday night marked the first time the Greenwich High School football team didn’t play an FCIAC opponent in its season-opener since the 2014 season, as it made a long bus ride to Newtown to begin their 2022 campaign – a matchup coach Anthony Morello and the Cardinals knew would be challenging.
The Cardinals, were indeed, tested in the first half and they entered halftime ahead by six points, a margin that was too close for comfort.
Yet in second half, the determined Cardinals gained the separation they were seeking.
And they did so with a tenacious defensive effort, an opportunistic offense and contributions from numerous athletes.
Scoring 20 second-half points, while yielding only a last-minute touchdown, Greenwich registered a workmanlike 34-14 victory over Newtown in a football alliance matchup held at Blue & Gold Stadium.
“We had a lot of guys playing their first varsity reps, it was a hostile environment and it was a two-hour bus ride to get here,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “So, for our team to be locked in and when adversity struck in the second quarter for them to bare down, I was really proud.”
The adversity Morello referred to occurred when Newtown trimmed Greenwich’s lead to 14-8 with a second-quarter touchdown and two-point conversion. The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT Top-10 poll this week, proceeded to score 20 unanswered second-half points to pull away with the triumph before a large crowd.
Senior running back Jack Konigsberg bulled his way through the line for two touchdowns, while senior quarterback Jack Wilson snuck his way through the line for three short scoring runs to pace the Cardinals (1-0).
“Offensively, we started hot, we had two quick scores and then we kind of fizzled out a little bit,” the 6-foot-4 Wilson said. “We had stupid penalties, getting behind the sticks – that’s not where you want to be. But we hunkered down in the second half and came out firing again and got the job done.”
The matchup marked the first time the Cardinals and Nighthawks met since Greenwich routed Newtown, 50-0, in the CIAC Class LL Tournament back in 2018. That was the season the Cardinals won the Class LL championship, finishing a perfect 13-0 along the way.
The Cards wasted little time in taking the lead in this much-anticipated season-opening game between two unfamiliar opponents. Junior Brandon Auguste used his speed and shiftiness to return the opening kickoff 55 yards down the left sideline to the Newtown 30-yard line. On Greenwich’s second play from scrimmage, the hard-running Konigsberg (6-1, 225 pounds) broke loose for a 26-yard touchdown run. Senior Sergot Boone converted the extra point and the Cards seized 7-0 advantage 52 seconds into the first quarter.
Wilson’s touchdown off a 1-yard sneak on the final play of the opening quarter put Greenwich on top, 14-0, with Boone, again splitting the uprights on the point-after attempt. Junior George Vomvolakis and Konigsberg had key runs during the drive, while senior wide receiver James Wailgum helped set up the touchdown by taking the ball near the goal line on an end around.
“Konigsberg ran great, George ran the ball well too,” Morello said. “To set the tone with Konigsberg and that return by Brandon August to start the game is always a good shot in the arm.
Coached by Bobby Pattison, Newtown closed to within 14-8 with their best drive of the game early in the second quarter. Junior J.J. Haddick snared a pass from senior quarterback Dylan Magazu for a 23-yard touchdown. The Nighthawks opted to go for the two-point conversion after Greenwich was charged with a penalty on the point-after attempt and they succeeded, as Magazu scored on a conversion run, making it 14-8 with 10:02 left in the first half.
That was all the offense in the first half, as strong defense and penalties hampered each team’s drive thereafter. The Cards’ defensive line, led by senior Dominic DeLuca and junior Griffin Galletta penetrated into the Nighthawks’ backfield frequently and harassed Magazu.
Galletta registered four sacks, while DeLuca had a sack and several quarterback hits.
“We were fired up,” the 6-2, 235-pound Galletta said. “All offseason, we were working for this. We know defense is our strong point this year, so we have to set the tone with ‘D’. We came crashing, we came hard and we showed what we can do.”
Greenwich’s defensive line and linebackers also made it a challenge for the Nighthawks to run the ball. Senior Andrew Sweirbut was the home team’s leading rusher.
“This win feels really good,” said the 6-7 DeLuca, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “Me and the other three captains and the seniors really got on the guys, we came out slow in the scrimmage, so we really emphasized coming out fast tonight. We scored on the first drive, which felt good. I thought we did well defensively and we can always improve.”
Senior Charlie Dixon caught a 59-yard pass from Wilson, setting Greenwich up on the 1-yard line. Wilson snuck it in from there in the third quarter and Konigsberg added a 6-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, making it 27-8. An interception by defensive back Nio Vigilante, set up Wilson’s final 1-yard sneak for a TD.
“We saw a weakness in the defense, he was kind of limping a little bit., the corner, so we felt we could take advantage,” said Wilson, a captain. “Their corner is a great player, but he was cramping up, was cramping up Dixon ran a great route and I was able to drop it in there.”
Dixon, a senior, also intercepted a long pass from Magazu, stopping a Newtown drive.
“I was playing defense all week in practice and I didn’t play much defense today and he just put me in that last second,” Dixon said. “I saw the ball go up and I just went to get it.”
Both team’s rhythm offensively was interrupted by penalties throughout the game.
“Our team as a whole played really well, but it’s no where close to our peak,” Dixon said. “We’re going to peak at the right time.”
Galletta, DeLuca, linebacker John Insinga and Cameron Williams were among the numerous Cardinals who registered key tackles for the victors. Newtown’s second touchdown occurred with only 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Cam Ward completed a short pass to Jayden Cordova, who ran more than 50 yards down the right sideline for a score.
“The second half, except for that score at the end of the game, the defense pitched a shutout,” Morello said. “They allowed us to pull away. Our ends, Griffin Galletta and Dom DeLuca were our stars. They held the lines and kept contain for the most part. Their quarterback, he’s an excellent runner, he’s dual threat. So, for us to be able to chase down the quarterback and not allow him to get too many yards – I was really pleased.”
Said Galletta: “There were some missed assignments, but overall, the D-linemen I thought, set the tone and we just kept pounding them. In the second half, we knew we had to come out and set the tone again.”
Greenwich effectively ran the ball with Konigsberg and Vomvolakis carrying the load, behind the strength offensive linemen Jake Kiernan, Peter Vomvolakis, Vinny Insinga, Drew Falla and Teddy Flinn.
“Offensively, we did well, but there were a ton of mental mistakes and it’s just not sound football across the board,” Morello noted. “Jack showed great command, I thought he threw some great deep balls tonight. That pass to Charlie was perfectly thrown and he demonstrated some good decision making. I thought the offensive line played well too.”
“A win is a win,” Morello continued. “Week 1, a two-hour bus ride to an alliance opponent. One we haven’t played in five years and one we’ve never played in their home stadium. To be able to win the second half convincingly and pull away is definitely something to be happy with.”
As for Greenwich being ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT pool for Week 1, Morello said he told the squad to embrace the ranking.
“It’s 2022, they’re all on Twitter, they’re all on Instagram, they’re all reading every bit of it, so my message to them on Wednesday when it came out was to embrace it,” Morello said. “There’s no hiding it this year, so you just have to come out and play your best and assume your opponent is going to play their best.”