WALLINGFORD — The past 48 hours have certainly added to the intrigue of the Carini Bowl.
The latest result to impact Wallingford’s annual rivalry game on Thanksgiving morning came Thursday night at Sheehan High School, where the Titans fell to Daniel Hand 28-18 in a SCC Tier 2 contest.
Combined with Lyman Hall’s 42-12 victory in East Haven a night earlier, the 51st edition of the Carini Bowl has become a de facto play-in game for both Sheehan and Lyman Hall.
But more on that later.
In Thursday night’s loss, Sheehan (5-4) stood up to another bigger SCC team, closing to within 21-18 early in the fourth quarter before succumbing to the 8-1 Tigers.
Hand, which clinched the SCC Tier 2 title and a Class M playoff spot with the win, came into the game riding a six-game shutout streak. But any mystique that carried was gone with 10:47 left in the first half when Sheehan wide receiver Dante DiNuzzo scored on a 6-yard reverse to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
Those were the first points Hand had surrendered since Sept. 12.
Hand, however, tied the game 90 seconds later. The Tigers actually scored the next 14 points after DiNuzzo’s TD to never trail again.
Hand led 14-10 by halftime and extended the advantage to 21-10 in the third quarter before a Brady Rossacci touchdown and two-point conversion pass from Paul Gorry to DiNuzzo got the Titans within 21-18 with 7:53 to play in the game.
But after the teams traded punts, Hand all but put the game away with the night’s longest play by either offense — a 37-yard touchdown pass by Jack Shay to tight end Samuel Markovitz with 4:47 remaining.
On Sheehan’s next possession, Hand’s defense stepped up to first sack and then intercept Gorry. The Tigers then ran out the game’s final three minutes.
“There is no doubt we played with them,” Sheehan head coach John Ferrazzi said. “We’re not happy about losing the game, but our players and everyone in our program believed we could win this game.
“I’m so proud of how the kids played,” Ferrazzi added. “We played hard; we played physical. We were just a couple mistakes away.”
While the Titans were never down by more than a touchdown until the game’s final six minutes, momentum swung in Hand’s favor immediately after Sheehan took its 7-0 lead.
On the ensuring kickoff, Hand’s Owen Preskar broke free from a tackle on his own 30 to return the ball to the Sheehan 16. Four plays later, Shay hit Preskar on a 3-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 7-7.
Four minutes later, Hand was back in the end zone via the first of Aidan Dolan’s two touchdown runs. The senior capped off a 52-yard drive that featured seven consecutive runs — three straight out of the Wildcat formation by Paul Calandrelli for 25 yards — with his own 12-yard scamper.
Sheehan played catchup the rest of the way, getting a 25-yard field goal by Austin Eccles with 14 seconds left in the first half to cut the gap to 14-10.
“That was the one (play) that shifted momentum,” said Ferrazzi of Preskar’s kickoff return. “We definitely had the momentum on our side. We had him tackled, but the big return definitely took some wind out of our sails.
“Self-inflicted wounds have hurt us throughout the season, but we still had a chance today,” Ferrazzi added.
Hand scored the only points of the third quarter on Dolan’s second TD run.
Dolan finished with 143 yards on 31 carries. His second touchdown came with 2:55 left in the third quarter and three plays after the Titans’ first turnover of the game.
Down 14-10, Sheehan was driving when DiNuzzo was stripped of the ball after making a circus catch between a trio of Tigers near midfield. Fighting for extra yards after the catch, DiNuzzo lost control of the ball and the Tigers came out of a scrum with possession.
Three plays later, Dolan went 25 yards around the left side of the Sheehan defense for a 21-10 lead with 2:55 left in the third quarter.
Not to be deterred, the Titans responded by going on the game’s longest drive, 16 plays for 66 yards.
Rossacci’s 2-yard TD run with 7:53 made it 21-16. Gorry then hit DiNuzzo in the end zone for two more points to get Sheehan within 21-18.
Gorry ran for 35 of his 71 yards on the drive. He also completed 12 of 20 passes on the night for 121 yards.
Rossacci carried the ball 26 times for 77 yards, while DiNuzzo caught six passes for 71 yards.
“Mistakes are part of the game and if you don’t make them, the outcome may be different,” Gorry said.
“This shows a lot about the character of the school, who we are and what we stand for,” Gorry added.
Unlike last season, when Sheehan went down to the Surf Club and upset Hand 17-13, the game didn’t end with the Titans celebrating. Sheehan also wasn’t interested in the moral victory that comes with the smallest SCC school once again going toe-to-toe with one of the conference’s most checkered football programs.
“I expect to win every game,” DiNuzzo said. “We go into every game expecting to win. We went down there last year and beat them. Why couldn’t we beat them again?
“We had some missed opportunities,” DiNuzzo added. “Without mistakes, we could have won that game.”
As for breaking Hand’s shutout streak?
“Honestly, for us, we expect to score,” Gorry said. “We did what we needed to do and found a way into the end zone. Dante is a hell of a player.”
The loss prevented Sheehan from clinching a Class SS playoff spot. The Titans, however, remain in the top 8 at No. 6.
A win in the Carini Bowl against Lyman Hall will extend Sheehan’s season. The Titans can also prevent their crosstown rivals from clinching their own postseason bid. Lyman Hall (6-3) is currently No. 9 in Class M.
Having already clinched its first winning season since 2010, Lyman Hall can reach the Class M postseason, but must win when Sheehan comes calling Thanksgiving morning. The Titans also face a must-win situation in SS.
“We’ve faced adversity like this all year,” Ferrazzi said. “It’s been an up-and-down season for us. We’ve had some shining moments and some low moments, and those are just learning opportunities for our kids. This isn’t going to derail our focus by any means.
“We are all going to be upset about it tonight, but turn the page and be right back in the lab tomorrow preparing for (the Carini Bowl),” Ferrazzi added.
“No one likes to come out (of a game like this), but it’ll help us prepare (for the Carini Bowl),” senior linebacker Austin DiPasquale said. “We just have to tighten up the bolts. It just locks us in for next week. We are going to stay physical, if not more physical, next week.”