By Bryant Carpenter
NEW CANAAN — The football gods giveth; the football gods taketh away.
In the span of six days, they gave the Cheshire Rams a hefty dose of each.
And as much as on this seventh day the Rams would prefer not to be resting, there is no choice. No. 8 Cheshire’s season ended Sunday in the Class L semifinals with a 23-13 loss to No. 4 New Canaan at Dunning Stadium.
Coming off an epic upset of top-seeded St. Joseph on Tuesday sped by three interceptions and two blocked punts, Cheshire saw the gospel flip on Sunday. A fumble, a blocked field goal and a crucial penalty all went against Big Red this time around.
And while three moments from an 82-snap afternoon may not seem monumental, they indeed were against a perennial state contender that never trailed, did not turn the ball over and converted on all its scoring chances with two touchdowns and three field goals behind quarterback/kicker Ty Groff.
Cheshire sophomore quarterback Aniston Marsh had a terrific game, completing 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to senior wide receiver Luke Wiedemann.
The second came with 1:28 to play at the end of a 90-yard, one-minute blitzkrieg that offered one last ray of hope on this early December afternoon.
But once New Canaan recovered the ensuing onsides kick, the Rams of the FCIAC were 11-1 and heading to Saturday’s Class L championship game against Maloney and the Rams of the SCC were heading back to Cheshire with a final mark of 7-5.
“You can’t mistakes against good teams; they expose it,” said CHS coach Don Drust. “When you turn the ball over and do things like that, it’s hard. It’s an uphill battle, especially against a team that’s well-coached and is a good football team.
“I’m really proud of the effort; I’m proud of how hard we played; I’m proud of so many things,” Drust added. “We didn’t stop; we played as hard as we could for 48 minutes. Sometimes games like this come down to a mistake here, a mistake here and a play there, and that’s what this one came down to.”
These were the Big 3:
*New Canaan blocked Micah Galloza’s 30-yard field attempt with just over three minutes left in what was an even first half to protect a 10-6 lead.
*Cheshire fumbled on a handoff exchange after a 44-yard screen from Marsh to Wiedemann had carried the Rams to the NC 24 on their first possession of the second half.
New Canaan, up 13-6 at that point on a Groff 23-yard field goal earlier in the third quarter, converted the turnover into three more points when Groff drilled a 33-yarder on the first snap of the fourth quarter.
*Cheshire, driving in response, saw a 20-yard gain down to the New Canaan 5-yard line on a screen from Marsh to Matt Jeffery erased by a holding call. Worse, Jeffery, Cheshire’s top playmaker, was hurt on the play, left the game and did not return.
Two sacks and a penalty later, Cheshire was punting on a fourth-and-37 at midfield.
And while the punt team downed a beauty of a ball from Galloza inches from the goal line, New Canaan wound up driving 99 yards behind Wildcat QB Luke Reed, who broke free from the 2 for a 55-yard gain, then rambled home five plays later from 15 yards out for an insurance touchdown that made it 23-6 with 2:27 to play.
Three plays and at least 13 points of difference in a game settled by 10.
Said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, “If we had done that today, we wouldn’t have won either.”
Cheshire did not go meekly. Taking over at their own 10 after a penalty on the kickoff that followed the Reed TD, the Rams went 90 yards with Marsh completing five of seven passes to Wiedemann (5-87 on the day) and junior wideout Lucas Chymbor (4-56).
An 11-yarder to Wiedemann in the back of the end zone cut it to 23-13. New Canaan running back Hunter Telesco, who led the home team’s ground game with 100 yards on 18 carries, got his last touch securing the onsides kick.
“They’re a solid team; they played probably the toughest schedule in Connecticut,” Marinelli said. “They’re a good team, a real good team — well-coached, classy kids, the kind of team you want to play. Even towards the end, if they get the onsides kick, you never know.”
”At the beginning of the season I was barely throwing JV touchdowns. To know I threw two touchdowns in a semifnial game, it’s amazing to thing about that, all the growth.
”Before every game I’m always nervous. I have to get one play and then I’ll be fine. Once that happens, I’m locked in. You’ve got to feel the nerves. That’s the fun part of the game.”
”I’m so glad I was able to play in a game like this. It was a great experience and so much fun. I’m so excited to keep playing and wondering what it’s going to be like next year. We’re going to come back even harder
”Making that first catch definitely gave our team some momentum. There’s pretty much nothing else you can ask for. Everyone’s one big family. The receiver corps is very close.”
”He’s a great quarterback. He’s money. He stepped up. He stepped up big time. He led us to that win last week against St. Joe’s. Having him run our offense, be a leader a leader of our offense, is a privilege even though he’s younger than us.”
”The family that we built these past couple of months.
”Yeah, definitely. We’re going to be telling our kids we were the first team to make it to the state semifinals since 2009 for the high school. I’m glad our group of 17 seniors was the one to be able to do that.”
”You can’t mistakes against good teams. They expose it. When you turn the ball over and do things like that, it’s hard. it’s an uphill battle, especially against a team that’s well-coached and is a good football team.
”Aniston was tremendous. He’s a preparer. Film-wise and all that stuff, he’s the guy who’s in early and leaves last. For a sophomore, that’s not always commonplace. He’s mature in that way. He loves the game; he loves the preparation. I’m proud of him.:
”I’m proud of everytghing those 17 seniors did and gave to us.”
Late drive much like SHS game
”That is a function of our seniors’ character. They’ve never stopped; they’ve never given up. It doesn’t surprise me. It’s who we are. It’s the type of kids that we have. They love being around each other; they love being in it. When you have that, you get guys who play for 48-plus minutes.”
No Gonzalez, no Kurtz. Make a difference?
”I don’t know. We’re confident in all our guys. Obviously, listen, we’re missing some important guys you’d love to have out there. But, again, I don’t think it was lack of effort or lack of anything from anybody else that was out there. Again, I just go back to I’m really proud of the guys that did everything they could. Even the guys that weren’t able, they did everything they could to help us prepare.”
Stories to tell?
”I don’t know that they quite understand it, but I think as you get older and you grow up, you start to realize, ‘Wow, I do have some things I’ll talk about for the rest of my life.’
”You get ask yourself that question a lot as a coach: Why do you do this? You do this to create experiences; you do this to create things that they’ll never forget. And if you’re not doing it for that reason, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.
”For me, these guys — those 17 seniors especially — will talk about Tuesday night going down and beating St. Joe’s, and the preparation going into this and playing into December. They’ll have stories forever with their kids. That’s what we do this for. You do it to create memories and to create those experiences. It’s not the way we wanted it, but at the end of the day I’m pretty sure those guys will have some pretty proud moments to tell their kids and who will be able to pass that on.”