Football: New Canaan holds off Wilton, 21-14 (updated)

There was a lot that left the New Canaan Homecoming throng uneasy last Saturday afternoon at the Rams’ Dunning Field: First and foremost, the condition of senior wide receiver Ryan Minaglia. At 8:29 of the second quarter, he made a catch at the Wilton 16-yard line but got crunched by a pair of defenders and lay motionless on the turf field.

Furthermore, the Rams could not put away a feisty, tenacious Wilton High football team. In the end, however, all would be well in a relieved New Canaan-dom. A 21-14 nail-biting victory over the Warriors only added luster to the positive report from the hospital regarding Minaglia’s condition.

New Canaan improved its record to 6-1 while Wilton dipped to 3-4 with its second straight loss.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played,” said an emotional Wilton head coach Bruce Cunningham. “We had young guys stepping up, guys playing football in their first varsity starts. We made some mistakes, and you still can’t give good football teams those opportunities. It was a game of big plays and they made more than we did.”

A short warm-up period preceded resumption of the game after the extended injury time-out for Minaglia. Wilton held a 7-6 lead courtesy of a Brett Phillips to Weston Wilbur touchdown pass to cap a 49-yard drive. But now, it was Neil Kohler attempting a 33-yard field goal to put the Rams ahead. The kick was wide left, however, and the Warriors (3-3) took over at their 20.

An exchange of punts gave Wilton possession of the ball, again at its own 20, and with 2:27 left in the half the Warriors started to drive. A third-down pass completion to John D’Elisa, good for seven yards, got Wilton a first down at its 33. But then it was big-play time, and New Canaan, as it had done and would do throughout the game, made one.

Wilton’s Patrick Ryan was hit in the backfield, fumbled, and the Rams' Grady Lynch fell on the ball. There was little more than a minute to go and it took New Canaan just three plays to score on an eight-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Nick Cascione to a leaping Lynch in the tiniest corner deep in the near end zone. He was ruled in bounds on a play that could have been called either way.

The Cascione-to-Lynch combination had already opened New Canaan’s scoring with a five-yard touchdown hook-up with just under two minutes gone in the first quarter. A two-point conversion completion, Cascione to Mike Root, gave the Rams a 14-7 margin with just 33 seconds left in the half.

Wilton opened the second half, marching 50 yards in 16 plays. Brett Phillips picked up a key first down on a two-yard run to the New Canaan 39. But on another fourth down play from the 28, a fumbled snap gave the Rams the ball at their 32.

It took them eight plays to reach the Warrior 16, from where again they attempted a field goal. This time an errant snap allowed a speedy Ryan to recover the ball at the Wilton 27.

But after picking up just one first down, the Warriors had to punt, and with the third quarter ending the Rams got the ball at the New Canaan 23. Teddy Bossidy, the Rams' running quarterback, came in and helped move his team to the Wilton 46. He then unloaded a long pass down the right sideline that Warrior safety Wilbur picked off. But Wilbur couldn’t stay in bounds — again, a close call. On the next play Bossidy got a block at the line of scrimmage and burst through an absent secondary on his way to a 46-yard touchdown scamper. Kohler’s extra point increased the Ram lead to 21-7 at 10:49 of the fourth quarter.

Rather than deflate Warrior morale, the New Canaan score ignited Wilton resolve. A 20-yard kick-off return from Rod-djoly Thorby got the Warriors to their 35. A false-start penalty proved just a minor hindrance as Wilton embarked on a 12-play drive that saw D’Elisa dive over the goal line from one-yard out on fourth down with 4:33 left in the game.

The Rams weren’t about to let up. They flew down the field, covering 85 yards in eight plays. But a Warrior fumble recovery at the 13-yard line gave Wilton a last chance to tie the game with under a minute left. An incomplete pass surrounded by three illegal procedure penalties put the Warriors back at their two-yard line. A seven-yard completion to Zach Laurinaitis was not enough to keep Phillips from throwing a fourth-down, desperation incompletion, giving the Rams the ball and the game.

Notes: Cunningham started his post-game address to his players by saying, “I can’t tell you how proud of you I am.” He had every reason. Wilton was down five starters, two of whom (Dan Holland and Joe Fraccarolli) started on both the offensive and defensive lines. Running backs Mike Burns and TJ Savvaides and special teams' ace and wide receiver Ethan Seagall also did not play.

Cunningham got outstanding efforts from seniors Mark Padovan, Patsy Romeo and John Luse on offense. On defense, sophomore Tyler Mirable came of age quickly with outstanding play at defensive tackle, and junior Kyle Andersen was a force at defensive back.

Cunningham patched together a tough group of players, led by exceptional efforts from veterans Mike LaSala, Luis MacIntyre, Kyle Barnett Ben Rappaport, Phillips, Laurinaitis and Wilbur on offense, and Griffin Bender, Jack Dexter and Ace Sakamoto on defense.

Wilbur had one of his best days, catching six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He was tough on defense, too, breaking up passes all over the field.