From start to finish, Greenwich’s performance level in the CIAC Class LL Tournament was what champions are made of.
Flourishing on both sides of the ball, the Cardinals soared to convincing victories over Hamden and Glastonbury in the tournament’s first two rounds and when they renewed their postseason rivalry with Fairfield Prep Saturday night they continued their dominance with a capital ‘D,’ as in defense.
Forcing turnovers, then scoring touchdowns, second-seeded Greenwich wasted little time in setting the tone of the Class LL final, seizing a 20-point first quarter lead on its way to posting an impressive 37-17 state championship victory over fifth-seeded Fairfield Prep at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
The decisive win capped an 11-2 season for the Cardinals, who outscored its opponents, 126-24, over its three games in the Class LL Tournament.
Greenwich now has nine state football championships to its resume. Entering Saturday’s showdown against Fairfield Prep (7-4), the Cardinals had last won the Class LL state title in 2018, when current coach Anthony Morello was an assistant coach on John Marinelli’s staff. Morello was an All-State offensive lineman during his high school days at Greenwich and experienced the unique pleasure of coaching his old team to the state title.
“It’s a surreal feeling, an absolutely surreal feeling,” Morello said of winning the state title. “I was on the 2018 team’s coaching staff against New Canaan. I lost in the playoffs every year in high school and we were in the playoffs every year. Ultimately, until you get to the top, you are always going to ask yourself – what if? As an Alumni, I hold the program to such a high standard, that my expectations are unrealistic at times, but it’s helped me become a better coach.”
These coaches around me work tirelessly and without them I wouldn’t be standing here without any of them and this program,” Morello continued.”
Junior quarterback Jack Wilson completed 11 of 19 passes for 116 yards and rushed for two short touchdowns for the Cardinals, who led 20-0 after the first quarter, before entering halftime with a 27-7 advantage on the Jesuits.
“Coming into the season ranked No. 1, we knew what the expectation was, we knew what we could do,” said Wilson, who finished the season with 2,327 passing yards. “It just came down to hard work, becoming close with the guys, working on that chemistry. To be able to accomplish our goal is a great feeling.”
Junior running back George Vomvolakis rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while senior defensive back/wide receiver Charlie Dixon intercepted three passes from Prep junior quarterback Tyler Smith, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Dixon also had five receptions for 61 yards for the state champion Cardinals.
“We knew we had to come out here and dominate,” said Dixon, who totaled 682 receiving yards for the season. “We knew we were the best team in the state and we had to prove it. Our defense was all over the place we had no weakness. To beat that team that sent us home crying last year is so satisfying.”
Fairfield Prep committed six turnovers – five interceptions and one fumble. Junior defensive back Nick Aravides and senior defensive back Matthew Trimmer each had an interception apiece for the victors. Aravides picked off a long pass in the opening half, while Trimmer helped seal Prep’s chances of a comeback with a key second half interception.
“We took that Staples loss (Thanksgiving Day) personal, we took that homecoming loss (to Southington) personal,” said Trimmer, who served as one of the Cards’ captains. “We fought through these playoffs hard. The defense put up a fight today, we held them all game long, we did what we had to do. It was the mentality, it was the mindset and we were able to do that and get it done.”
Greenwich, which last won the state title in 2018 entering tonight’s game against the Jesuits, scored first in this state final showdown. Dixon intercepted a Smith pass along the right sideline and returned it 26 yards to the end zone for a touchdown, giving Greenwich a 6-0 lead with 9:30 remaining in the first quarter.
“Charlie Dixon was a human highlight film,” Morello said. “It’s clear to everyone who the MVP was tonight.”
The Cardinals’ defense made another clutch play on Prep’s next possession. Junior defensive end Griffin Galletta pounced on a fumbled snap that eluded Smith, giving Greenwich the ball at the Jesuits’ 37-yard line.
Three plays later, Vomvolakis took a pitch from Wilson and ran around the left side into the end zone from five yards out. Sergot Boone converted the ensuing PAT and Greenwich quickly took a 13-0 advantage at the 7:16 mark of the opening quarter. Vomvolakis totaled a highly impressive 1,034 rushing yards (team-high) on the season.
“We just stuck as a unit and we got the win,” Vomvolakis said. “This team ended our season last year and we finally beat them – it’s a dream come true.”
Then it was another Fairfield Prep possession, another turnover. Dixon again stepped in front of a deep Smith pass and picked it off, giving GHS the ball at its own 42-yard line.
“The defense scored and put us up right away,” Morello noted. “Charlie gets a pick six and off we go. This team has thrived when we are working together in all three facets of the game, we are able to score quickly.”
Wilson appreciated how the defense put the offense in prime position to score points early in this championship matchup.
“The defense, in the beginning of the year, they were counted out,” said Wilson, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “In the playoffs, they absolutely came alive and they banded together and came up big in crucial moments.”
A 27-yard reception by Dixon keyed the Cards’ next drive, which was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Wilson with 3:29 still left in the first quarter.
The effective running of Vomvolakis and senior Jack Konigsberg powered the Cardinals’ first drive of the second quarter. Wilson concluded the time-consuming 53-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak, making it 27-0. Paving the way for Vomvolakis and Konigsberg to run were offensive lineman Jake Kiernan, a senior, center Teddy Flinn (senior), Drew Falla (senior), Peter Vomvolakis (sophomore) and Vincent Insinga (senior).
“Coach (Bruce) Cunningham (offensive line coach) has us working hard every day,” said Kiernan, also a captain. “Every time we step on that field he has us locked and ready to go.”
Said Flinn: “Ultimately, we were a really good group of guys that came together. We built a lot of chemistry, because we played nearly all of last year together. We had a goal this year of coming in and trying to win a state championship for our town and we did it. I couldn’t feel prouder of a group of guys who came in every day and worked hard and we ultimately got it done and finished the job.”
The Jesuits’ first-half touchdown came when Smith connected with wide receiver Finbar Molloy, a sophomore, in the left corner of the end zone with 4:42 to go in the second quarter. Prep had trouble generating a rhythm on offense, as Greenwich effectively slowed down their running attack.
“We knew what their pass game was going in,” Trimmer noted. “They’re more of a run heavy team, so we wanted to take away the run and force them to pass. We knew they were going to go deep and when you have athletes like Charlie Dixon in the secondary, he’s going to make plays for you.”
Said Kiernan: “All week, we knew they loved running the ball. We knew they could throw too, so we did our assignments. Everyone did their job.”
Trimmer reflected on a special person, who made a significant impact in his football career.
I dedicate this game to my high school youth coach Scott Harrington,” Trimmer said. “Coach Harrington helped made me the player I am and he is tragically no longer with us. I know he was watching over me as I played and that ring is for him.”
Greenwich’s defensive line of senior Dominic DeLuca, Galletta, Kiernan and senior Andrew Castellanos turned in standout performances, while junior linebacker John Insinga and junior Sebastian Parra were in on numerous tackles for the Cardinals in this title matchup. Dixon, seniors Anthony Pedicano and Wyatt Gibson were stellar in the secondary, alon with Avarides, a junior.
“We played our style of football,” said DeLuca, also a team captain. “We said at the pregame meeting, if we stick to our style of football and do our thing we could stop them and we came out with the ring and the win.”
DeLuca, who continued his family’s legacy of winning a state football title for Greenwich High School, helped the Cards control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“Charlie started us off on defense with a great pick six,” DeLuca said. “Then, we went to our bread and butter. We started running the ball hard, Jack made some throws he had a great game.”
The Cards received a 31-yard field goal by Boone and a dazzling 63-yard touchdown run by Vomvolakis in the second half. Malachi Mercer-Robinson scored on a 13-yard run in the fourth quarter for the Jesuits, who added two points with a safety, when Dixon, who also provided stellar punts for GHS, opted to run out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter on a punt in order to pin Prep back deeper in its own territory on the ensuing kick.
Konigsberg added 58 rushing yards, senior James Wailgum had a pair of receptions for 23 yards and Vomvolakis caught two passes for 22 yards in the winning effort. Greenwich was eliminated by Fairfield Prep in the quarterfinal-round of the Class LL tourney in 2021.
“Back last year when we lost, the first thing we said is we’re going to win a ring next year and we all bought in and now we’re here,” said Wailgum, who amassed 63 receptions on the season for 980 yards, both of which led the squad. “I’m so proud of my teammates. Our coaches did a phenomenal job all year long. Offensively, we averaged like 40 points a game, no one could stop us.”
“We knew the defense was going to do their job, so we just had to execute,” said Falla, one of Greenwich’s experienced offensive linemen. “Our offensive line coach, I give so much credit to coach Cunningham, he puts us through the ringer throughout the entire season and we go out there and do our job. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to do this with.”
“It’s an incredible feeling and I’m speechless,” Dixon noted. “Coach Morello has made this the best season. Jack Wilson is the best quarterback in the state. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”
Indeed, Morello will always remember Greenwich’s 2022 seniors.
“These seniors were freshmen when I was hired and I told them when they were incoming freshmen, ‘no matter what happens, you are always going to be my first class and it’s going to be a journey together,” Morello said. “They have worked tirelessly throughout the four years, with a COVID year in between. They lost their sophomore year and they have worked tirelessly to put themselves in that position. They won that game tonight. It’s such a fulfilling feeling that they’re here in this moment. It feels like everything has come full circle.”