WALLINGFORD — It’s time.
Lyman Hall and Sheehan are set to play the 49th annual Carini Bowl on Thanksgiving Day at Fitzgerald Field at Lyman Hall’s Phil Ottochian Athletic Complex — something the two teams and their fans could not say a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a game that all of us have waited for in all our football careers,” Sheehan senior captain and running back Jacob Shook said. “I think missing it (last year) makes us even more excited to have this game because I know a lot of guys on the other side of town and they know us.”
In the last matchup between the two in 2019, Sheehan sealed its trip to the Class S playoffs and the state title that waited at the end of the line with the most lopsided Carini Bowl result in history, winning 56-0.
The Titans have controlled the series since 2012, winning eight in a row. Thursday can be the ninth.
The Titans march into the game with a 6-3 record and, as in 2019, need a win to keep their playoff chances alive.
Ultimately, however, other teams will decide their fate. Sheehan, sitting at No. 9 in the Class S rankings, need at least one of the two-loss teams above them to lose.
Lyman Hall, on the other hand, has a 2-7 record and has long fallen from Class M playoff contention.
The Trojans, though, are using that underdog status for fuel.
“People doubt us, so we just got to prove them wrong,” Lyman Hall senior captain and lineman Joe Pieper said. “Got to use it as motivation to play better all week long and, hopefully, prove all the doubters wrong.
“It definitely adds pressure,” Pieper added. “People walk into the game already expecting a big blowout. That makes us feel like we really have to play good. We want to give the people of Wallingford and, hopefully, the future of our program a big show.”
For Lyman Hall to pull off the upset, the linemen will play a major role. Pieper, an offensive and defensive lineman, is one of four senior captains who man at least one side of the line.
“If they don’t play a real solid game, we’ll be in trouble in this football game,” Lyman Hall head coach Bill Weyrauch said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
It’s basic football. Control of the line of scrimmage would enable Lyman Hall to maintain possession and control the clock while keeping Sheehan’s attack off the field.
When the Titans have the ball, the Trojans’ defense will be tasked with stopping a robust Sheehan run game that features Shook, a 1,166-yard rusher. Shook recorded a career-high 304 yards earlier this season and also had a pair of 200-plus-yard games.
But the Titans ground attack is more than just Shook. Senior Jelan Kollie gives head coach John Ferrazzi a quick, speedy option, while junior Romeo Cruz serves as a power back.
It adds up to the area’s most prolific rushing attack at 196.6 yards a game.
Again, the play of the LH line will be key. So will that of the secondary.
“We’re going to have to get after it on the defensive side of the ball,” Weyrauch said. “I talked to my kids all the time about it. We have to be able to do that. We’ll have to be able to play some man coverage, some single coverage against them in order to take away their running game.”
Limiting the Titans’ run or even stopping it altogether won’t necessarily keep Ferrazzi’s squad out of the end zone. While Sheehan’s passing game is directed by first-year quarterbacks Paul Gorry and Dominic DiNuzzo, senior receivers Ryan Gersz and John Cotter provide ample leadership.
Gersz, who also kicks field goals and extra points, has 32 receptions for 479 yards. Cotter has 23 catches for 243 yards. Junior John Gogliettino (11-155) is also a part of the core.
Gorry, a sophomore, started the season, suffered a wrist injury that sidelined him for three weeks, then returned against Hamden and Hartford Public. He’s completed 65 of 109 passes for 800 yards and seven TDs against three interceptions.
DiNuzzo, a junior, has completed 33 of 56 attempts for 415 yards.
“They have a lot of — especially over the last couple of years — they’ve had a lot of different weapons,” Weyrauch said. “And so, it's a very, very difficult team to stop.”
Like Sheehan, Lyman Hall rolls out a run-heavy offense. There isn’t a 1,000-yard rusher like Shook, but the Trojans have four capable backs as well as a speedy quarterback in Kadin DeWallace.
Senior Ryan Bannon (95-379) and sophomore Cristian Roman-Koenig (46-161) take the majority of snaps, with senior Aiden Coratelli (21-66) and sophomore Gavin Janowski (25-178) getting touches as well.
DeWallace is the team’s top rusher in terms of both attempts (103) and yards (410) via the read option and quarterback sneaks. With natural speed, DeWallace can slip past the defense if the linebackers aren’t keenly watching him on the handoff.
Shook, also a linebacker, said the Titans played an option team earlier in the season, so they understand that they need to stay disciplined on defense.
Ferrazzi said he’s getting his team some reps to best defend DeWallace.
“It’s playing to your responsibilities,” Ferrazzi said. “For what they’re doing, I don’t think it’ll be a big adjustment for our guys. It’s staying disciplined to your alignment and your techniques and knowing what your responsibilities are.”
Contrary to recent seasons, when all-time Lyman Hall passing leader Sean Patrick Pragano was under center, the Trojans aren’t throwing the ball as often. Weyrauch aims for about 15 pass attempts per game.
If Sheehan stops the LH run, it will put immense pressure on a young quarterback with just two upperclassmen targets, senior wide receiver Jake Seamans (11 catches, 143 yards) and junior tight end Ethan Saez (9-123).
(LH suffered a big loss when Pragano’s younger brother, Cam, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 4. By then, he already had 210 yards on 15 catches.)
Thus, on Thursday, Pieper and his mates on the offensive line will need to control the pace and clear paths for DeWallace and the running backs.
Pieper hopes to start the game off strong.
“Smash it right down their throats, hopefully set the tone,” Pieper said.
Weyrauch would love to win, but he’s mostly looking for the Trojans to be competitive, unlike in 2019.
“What I’m hoping for is that we can have a last game where our kids — win, lose or draw — they walk off the field saying, ‘Hey, we played a good football game,’” Weyrauch said. “‘We did the best that we could, and we played a good football game.’”