WALLINGFORD — OK, OK, we’re not going to kid you.
Sheehan beat up Lyman Hall pretty good last Thanksgiving, the names of the players haven’t changed much and this year’s game is at Sheehan.
So there’s a good chance the 42nd Carini Bowl will be a repeat of last year’s 55-14 Sheehan romp, right?
It could be.
Sheehan and its dynamic fleet of play-makers will again run wild?
A distinct possibility.
Or, maybe Lyman Hall’s up-and-coming underclassmen, a year older and with a few wins under their collective belt instead of that fat goose egg of a year ago, will show they’re now made of sterner stuff?
That just might come to pass.
In Thanksgiving rivalry games, especially in a cross-town epic such as this, where emotion is such a wildcard, you never know even when the answers seem clear ahead of time. Play the game, then we’ll talk.
“We’ll have some things ready and I know Sheehan will as well,” said Lyman Hall coach Rob Marone. “Anything can happen Thanksgiving Day. That gives us hope,”
About four weeks back it seemed possible that both Wallingford schools could hit the Carini on winning streaks. Yes, the Trojans were on a 16-game skid, but they ended it with a 22-14 win in East Haven and followed it up with a 24-21 overtime win over Branford at home. Sheehan, meanwhile, was turning the corner on a brutal first-half schedule to a more favorable second-half itinerary.
Turns out only Sheehan has followed through on the expectation. The Titans (5-5) have won four straight — and handily at that, by an average 45-8 margin — to reach .500 after a 1-5 start. Lyman Hall (2-8), meanwhile, saw its fire cool with a 19-14 loss to Hyde and then a 40-14 loss to Law.
The Trojans haven’t played since Nov. 15. Sheehan just played on Friday night. Who gets the advantage there? The team with the longer rest and recovery and more extensive prep time or the team that’s got one heck of a flow going?
“We had our bye week two weeks ago. We got rested during that time and got a lot of work done during that time for a lot of things,” said Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi. “So I don’t see that as a huge disadvantage for us. We’ll be ready, we’ll be good to go.”
Ferrazzi and his Titans certainly are not dismissive of Lyman Hall. They know the 2013 Trojans are better, not merely than they were a year ago, but from the start of the current season.
“What concerns me the most is how they’ve improved every week. Seeing them on film, seeing them in person, it seems like they’ve done nothing but get better,” Ferrazzi said. “They’ve got a good quarterback; they’ve settled into a run game that I think can be effective for them. We’ve got to be prepared to be able to stop that.”
With their all-junior backfield of QB Kyle Smith, tailback Koby Mensah (107-692, 8 TD) and fullback Justin Brown (46-196), the Trojans have rushed for 121 yards a game. That number arguably would be higher if not for the stream of injuries — junior center Matt Raffile’s broken hand being the latest — that have forced Marone to shuffle his offensive line throughout the season.
Through the air, LH is averaging 130 yards per outing behind Smith (92-for-196, 1,298 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT), who is in his second full year as a starter. Smith’s leading receivers this fall have been seniors Jerry Rodriguez (31-577) and Lucas Furgalack (25-349).
The thing is, the Trojans will want to harness any energy they can muster on offense and make it last with time-consuming possessions. The old adage certainly applies. The more Lyman Hall has the ball, the less Sheehan has time to operate.
Not that the Titans need much. They’ve settled in with Jeremy Gannon at quarterback and the fourth-year senior is simply a dynamo whether he’s running the ball (553 yards, 13 TDs) or throwing it (1,082 yards, 6 TDs). He’s got the smarts and athleticism to execute plays as designed or save them when they fall apart.
Gannon, of course, isn’t the only Titan the Trojans have to worry about. Senior Brandon Gauthier has had a monster receiving season. His 60 receptions for 1,125 yards have broken school records and put him among the state leaders. Senior RB Rafael Dominguez (130-906) has the 1,000-yard milestone within his reach, which always exceeds his 5-foot-4, 142-pound frame.
All told, it’s added up to 364 average yards of offense, 191 through the air and 173 on the ground, for the T-Men.
“You can’t key in on one thing with Sheehan. That’s what’s such a problem,” said Marone.
“If it was one kid, you get someone a little help, but as soon as you key in on somebody and you’re not balanced somewhere else, they counterattack that very easily. So we’re going to need to play balanced defense.
“Where we could make some noise is with a couple of our big guys up front. When those guys are getting penetration and if they’re tough to block, that gives our linebackers a good chance to run to the ball ... It’s going to have to be a total team effort to even have a chance to be with them.”
Tymar Greene, one of just four seniors with Lyman Hall who has been with the program for all four years of high school, is a pillar on the front four. He has 56 tackles. Mensah at outside linebacker (58 tackles) and Furgalack at safety (55) have also been the defensive leaders for LH.
Sheehan has been paced by its senior defensive end, Jordan Lytle (see related story). The Titans also have heavy hitters in junior DB Bruce Rutkowksi (70 tackles) and senior linebackers Riley Konopka (56) and Brandon Selvaggi (50).
Overseeing it all at free safety like the center fielder he is in baseball is Gauthier. He’s made 77 tackles and picked off six passes.
Thursday will mark Gauthier’s final game. He can’t wait to play it even though he knows it will be emotionally taxing.
“When I started playing my sophomore year and I played with the seniors, I saw the tears, the enjoyment, they wanted to play so hard,” Gauthier said. “I want that feeling.”
This is a keen sentiment on both sides of town, which is why the Carini Bowl is often so lively even if it’s not expected to be close.
“There’s a lot of emotion,” said Furgalack, Lyman Hall’s senior captain along with linebacker Dan Calcagni. “It came up quick. I remember playing as a freshman, sophomore, junior, never thinking the day would actually come, but it’s coming down to it. We’ve got one more game left; we’ve got to leave it all on the field.”
“Being it’s the last game, you’ve got lay everything on the line,” Calcagni echoed. “Records shouldn’t matter going into the game. It’s just one game.”
The Carini Bowl, it’s been said, is the Super Bowl of Wallingford. Playoff ramifications have been few and far between when it comes to this game. Aside from bonus points here and there, it doesn’t reverberate much out of town.
Which is exactly why it is so momentous within it.
“Everybody’s last game, you’re not leaving anything on the field,” said Gannon. “It’s bittersweet, you know? You train all season, you think, ‘This is never gonna come, this is never gonna come,’ and finally it comes up. It hasn’t sunk into me yet, but once reality hits me it’s going to be one of those things: Do your best and leave no regrets.”