By NED X. GRIFFEN
Connor Buck's eyes were bugging out as he talked about how New Canaan thumped Hand on Wednesday night, looking as if someone had just injected him with a shot of adrenaline Pulp Fiction-style.
"We came out fired up," said Buck, a senior defensive lineman. "We just kept going. We executed every single assignment. We we're disciplined. We just played New Canaan football. I don't even know what to say.
"It still hasn't hit me yet."
New Canaan routed the Tigers, 50-21, and it wasn't even that close. Its first-team defense stuffed the former's up-tempo offense and held them to a mere 46 first-half yards.
The Rams led 50-7 late in the game, prompting two coaches to say, "I never expected this."
Both coaches were from New Canaan.
"I never in all my wildest dreams though that this would happen," Rams coach Lou Marinelli said. "We were expecting a good game, and I was just hoping that we could eek it out because I'll tell you what, that (Hand) is a hell of a football program."
Hand is the two-time CIAC Class L champion, but in name only. It returned just five starters from a team that hadn't lost in two seasons.
Inexperienced or not, nobody beats Hand like the Rams did. New Canaan had 315 yards of total offense at halftime and finished with 481 yards.
The Rams' defense was just as good if not better as it allowed 162 yards, most of which came against its reserves.
"Nobody holds them down, and I think that's a tremendous job by our defensive staff," Marinelli said. "I think everything fell into place. We got a couple of breaks, which certainly helps. When you win, you're really not as good as you think. And when you lose, you're not as bad. I don't think that they're (Hand) bad. I hope that we're going to be pretty good."
That's a certainty as New Canaan returns over half of last season's team and is led by one of the state's elite coaching staffs.
There's no question that the Rams will be ranked near the top when the first Day Top 10 state coaches' poll is released.
"Defensively, they're big and fast and nasty," Tigers coach Steve Filippone said. "I'm going to give Lou and his staff tremendous credit. They evaluated what we did and they took away what we did best. Our screen game, they negated it. Our sprint game, they negated it. They knew that we, compared to their guys up front, weren't going to move anybody. So our run game wasn't going to be a factor.
"They took away the things we do best and forced us to try to throw the ball down the field, which were not good at. Now we're not good at it. We can get better at it, but right now we're not good at it. We tried to throw down the field and got a couple picked off. They did a great job. You have to take your hat off to Lou and his staff."
The Rams front seven had Hand's quarterbacks on the run for the majority of the game. Buck was one of the defensive leaders. He's 6-foot-5, 244 pounds, and has been offered a scholarship from UMass.
Junior linebacker Zach Allen (6-6, 243) also shined.
"One of the things about tonight on defense is that our two outside linebackers, one was a junior (Allen) and the another one (Lewis Knox) is a sophomore," Marinelli said. "(Knox) had to play because our senior guy (Sterling Guynn) hurt his elbow and is out for the year, unfortunately."
Senior linebacker Cole Harris made three of the biggest defensive plays for the Rams. After he was stopped at the Hand 1-yard line on fourth-and-goal, he tackled Scott Sweitzer for a safety on the very next play.
"That was a big game-changer," Harris said. "It just took the wind right out of their sails; the confidence that they had from stopping us."
New Canaan got the ball at the Tigers 40 after the free kick and scored quickly to take an 8-0 lead with over five minutes left in the first quarter.
Harris scored on a 32-yard interception to push the Rams ahead, 15-0, early in the second half.
"He does have a knack (for big plays)," Marinelli said. "When we were struggling against St. Joseph (last season), he came up with a pick-six and helps us win the game.
"He's a hell of a football player. He covers very well, aside from covering the pass. … (His safety) made me look a lot better because I'm the idiot that called going for it on fourth down."
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Minutia — we're not too sure the last time someone scored 50 on Hand. And if it's happened, then it hasn't been done in a very long time.
TEAM DAY has state football scores dating back to 1982, and there wasn't a game in which the Tigers gave up 50 points. Stratford came close — it beat Hand, 48-20, on Nov. 14, 1992.
We have people working on this.
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Things for YOU to read:
Jon Chik of Hearst Inc. and Dave Ruden of The Ruden Report both covered New Canaan v. Hand.
Xavier's 30-22 win over Staples was Wednesday's other big game. Jim Bransfield (JRC Incorporated), Doug Bonjour (Hearst Inc.), and Tom Yantz (Hartford Courant) were all there.
Michael Fornabaio, Hearst Inc.: Harding begins Cochran era with win
Jason Sonski, Hearst Inc.: Amity rallies to beat Seymour.
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American: Seymour falls short vs. Amity
Reid L. Walmark, Hearst Inc.: Foran defeats Fairfield Warde, 39-20
Carl Josephson, New Britain Herald: Newington beats Bacon Academy
David Fierro, Hearst Inc.: Greenwich opens season against unfamiliar foe West Haven
Kevin Roberts, Bristol Press: Bristol Eastern looks to turn corner this season, and, St. Paul football working to improve defense
Dave Greenleaf, Bristol Press: Bristol Central itching to get on field with new offense
Matt Straub, Bristol Press: Plainville football going in with new attitude
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American: Ansonia lineman to play after missing 2012 with injury
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Where YOU should go tonight:
■ Gilbert/Northwestern Regional at Cromwell, 3:30 p.m.: Let the great Pequot scramble begin!
■ Valley Regional/Old Lyme v. Hyde at Wilbur Cross, 4:30 p.m.: Ditto.
■ North Haven at Bridgeport Central, 6 p.m.: Listed purely for selfish reasons. Central has been power running team. North Haven are perhaps the state's finest purveyours of GOD'S FATHER'S OFFENSE.
■ Southington at Glastonbury, 6 p.m.: They're the two best CCC D-I teams, and both are Class LL playoff contenders.
■ West Haven at Greenwich, 6 p.m.: West Haven has the talent to win the LL title. The Cardinals think they can make a run at it, too.
■ Masuk at New Milford, 7 p.m.: The Panthers were a perennial state power under John Murphy. He resigned over the offseason to become the Green Wave's new head coach. Breaking up is hard to do.
■ Trumbull at Shelton, 7 p.m.: These two neighbors are in different leagues and haven't squared off since the 1995 LL final (Shelton won, 14-7).
Vaya con dios....