Saturday, December 23, 2006

Top 10 (well, almost)

By now, hopefully, you’ve read about numbers 11 through 20 in our top 20 football game list. I hope you also enjoyed the highlights. These (along with the next batch that you’ll hear) aren’t necessarily my favorite calls, but they seem to represent the game pretty well. I have to admit that I’m very fond of the call that you hear in game number 15, and I’m pleased with the call of the game-winning field goal in game number 10. What bothers me, besides what I say or how I sound, is the quality of the audio in these calls. Jeez, cell phone audio can be just brutal sometimes.

Anyway, ten more games to go…

#10 – Greenwich vs. West Haven (Class LL Championship – December 7, 2002 at Bridgeport) – Still known as “The One That Got Away.” It wasn’t even supposed to be close. This was Greenwich’s year. They were to be undefeated, FCIAC champions, and state champions. They got the FCIAC win (game number 14), but couldn’t finish the deed. West Haven came in as a gritty, blue-collar football team, compared with Greenwich’s rep as the white-collar town. The Cardinals had John Sullivan, soon to head off to Notre Dame (and, hopefully, the NFL). The game went back and forth with no real flow. Greenwich would have a touchdown called back because of a penalty (rumor had it that it was a chop block). A nasty snowstorm threatened the game, and as a result, the Westies fans threw snowballs at the Cards as they left the field at halftime. The wind would be a factor also, causing missed extra points. The Cardinals tied the game up on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jim Cabrera to Kevin Longo on fourth down in the fourth quarter. Tied at 13, it looked like we were heading to OT before the Cardinals got hit with a pass-interference call. The defense tightened but on fourth and a yard, Phil Banks raced 50 yards to the championship as the Westies, (also known as the Blue Devils) won 20-13. The post-game was equally bizarre, with a CIAC lackey trying to hand the runner-up award to coach Rich Albonzio. From there, depending on whom you believe, it got crazier, with reports of the trophy being thrown and kicked. At one point, Greenwich High School’s athletic department would temporarily suspend Coach Al. Then the CIAC, without even speaking with Coach Al (or me, for that matter, when I wanted a comment from them) placed the Cardinals on two years probation. The whole game was a black eye – for the trophy thing, for the snowballs, and for us, and you’ll hear why in the audio. Our sound is dreadful that day. Not a game that I like to relive, to be honest. Still we had a great crew – Sean Kilkelly, Mark Rosen, and I had the play-by-play. Tom Pollina and Tommy Dee walked the sidelines for us. You think we’ve got a lot of people now? HA!

Audio highlight – the winning touchdown.

#9 – New Canaan at Greenwich (November 9, 2002) – It was Homecoming day at GHS. It was also a quagmire, since Cardinal Stadium didn’t have artificial turf yet. You figured the Cards and Rams, even with spectacular defensive units, would find a way to score points. But at halftime, there was no score. At the end of the third quarter, we were still scoreless. With almost no time left, Zach Ostrowski would try to win it. One of the best kickers in Connecticut that year, Ostrowski’s attempt on that field never had a chance. In the booth, I vaguely remember hearing a rumor of overtime coming to Connecticut. As we got to the end of the fourth quarter, I mentioned that there would be overtime. I committed a brain fart that I’ve lived with ever since. That’s why all I could keep saying was “there is no overtime in Connecticut football.” That has since been changes in some parts of the state, but not in the FCIAC. The final score? Nothing. Sean Kilkelly, Mark Rosen, and Tom Kane joined me for this one.

Audio highlight – the final attempt for points

#8 – Harrison at Rye (October 14, 2006) – It’s only called “The Game.” It’s a tradition and a legend. It's been played almost every year since 1929, with no games from 1934-36, and (foolishly) in 2004. More often than not, one team is having an up year, while the other is down. Still, the games aren’t always close. This edition, was one of the best that the series has seen. Harrison jumped out to a 12-0 lead behind quarterback Matt Ciraco, who ran 41 yards for one score, and threw 37 yards for another. On their home turf, the Garnets fought back with two touchdowns through the air to take a 13-12 lead into intermission. Jimmy Falasca, not playing at 100% shape, topped off a seven play, 65 yard drive with a nine-yard score. Rye QB Franny Archibald, sent the nearly 10,000 people at John Nugent Field into delirium with a touchdown to give the Garnets a 19-18 lead. They would hold on for dear life as Ciraco, bum shoulder and all, made a desperate try to keep a late drive alive. The Garnets would take the traditional dip in Blind Brook. This would be one of only two Westchester games we would call in 2006, and though I felt weird being there, the atmosphere and game were some of the best that I’ve ever been a part of.

Audio highlight – Archibald’s game-winning TD, called by me with Ricky Fritsch and Zach Fisher. Archibald spikes the ball after the touchdown, setting off some discussion about the penalty.

#7 – Brewster vs. Horace Greeley (Section 1 Class A Final – November 6, 1999 at Mount Vernon) – It happened so long ago now, but it was just a tremendous football game. A back and forth affair in front of a raucous crowd at crumbling, yet charming Memorial Stadium, the night didn’t start well for me. Upon arriving in Mount Vernon, I noticed that I was missing a piece of equipment. Do you know how hard it is to do 80 on the Hutch to get back to Greenwich and get back to the stadium by game time? Well somehow, I did make it, and called a game that featured lead changes, and just ran out of time for Greeley to score once more. Ron Lyons, a legendary Section 1 coach (many of those years at John Jay), called that entire 1999 season with me on WVIP.

Audio highlight: Dan DiPietro scores the winning touchdown.

#6 – Greenwich vs. Bridgeport Central (FCIAC Championship – November 19, 2004 at New Canaan) – After yielding the 2003 FCIAC appearance to rival Staples, the Cardinals were back in the title game, against the sentimental favorite, the Bridgeport Central Hilltoppers. Football in Bridgeport isn’t exactly king, though it used to be. Coach Dave Cadelina has restored a lot of the pride, and his 2004 team won the divisional title, earning the right to face the big bad Cards. The game was moved out of Boyle Stadium to New Canaan, thanks to a fight in Stamford following a Black Knights-Norwalk game earlier in the ’04 season. Stamford Mayor Dan Molloy said that no night games would be played in his city until the matter had been fully reviewed. So Dunning Field got to host the conference title game. New Canaan has never been known as Cardinal country, and the people in the booth that night were openly rooting for the Hilltoppers. I recall one man actually yelling at times, cheering when Central did something good, and booing if things went Greenwich’s way. In the end, “Touchdown” Tom Brown said “boo this”, and ran for over 200 yards and took home the MVP award as the Cardinals won 43-27. Tom Kane, Matt Hamilton and I called the game on WGCH.

Audio highlight – Tom Brown seals the championship.

#5 – Poly Prep at Brunswick (October 6, 2006) – It’s amazing that there could actually be four better games than this one. In front of the MSG cameras (whose announcers called it “one of the best they’ve ever seen”), the Blue Devils had a 7-0 halftime lead before the Bruins tied it up on a Kevin Decker one-yard run in the third quarter. The B’s had a chance to shut the door on fourth and goal at the own one-yard line, as Tyrone Grant appeared to be stopped. But as the cameras clearly showed, Grant’s knee never hit the ground, and the Blue Devil QB kept running, stunning the crowd at “The Cos.” After the Blue Devils missed the extra point, the Bruins would get the score that might have sealed the win, with Decker scoring his second TD with 2:36 to go. Chris Harris, the excellent Wick kicker, pulled the point-after wide left, and following some zaniness, we went to overtime (a first on WGCH!). Each team exchanged TD’s in the first session of the shootout. In the second OT, Poly Prep scored and decided to go for two, which failed. As you’ll hear on the audio highlight, the Bruins would keep their magnificent winning streak alive on a night that might have officially proved whate we all knew – Kevin Decker and Tyler McFarlane are great players, and the Brunswick football program is for real. Ricky Fritsch and Nick Angotto joined me for the call on WGCH.

Audio highlight – The game-tying touchdown and the winning conversion.

#4 – Greenwich vs. New Britain (Class LL Championship – December 4, 2004 at West Haven) – Nick Angotto might not want to read this one. Nick, who is now a part of the WGCH family, was a receiver on the ’04 team, and he still aches over this game. Personally, I thought the Cardinals would get smoked by the Golden Hurricanes in this game at the “House of Horrors” – Ken Strong Stadium, the site of Cardinal title losses in 2000, 2001, and this one in 2004. I’ve heard the criticisms of Coach Rich Albonizio in “the big game” but I think after this past year, we can stuff that one away. Were mistakes made on this night? Sure, but I didn’t think that the Cardinals would be able to play with the Hurricanes to begin with. The Cardinals, much to my surprise, not only stayed in the game, but led it in the fourth quarter (that would be the part that hurts people). Turnovers would hurt Big Red late, and the Hurricanes would hold on for a 39-34 win. Tom Kane and Matt Hamilton called this one with me on WGCH. Quick side note – this was Tom’s last game with me, and he did an exceptional job as an analyst for our one year together. Sometimes things happen that cause people to move on, or be moved out. I had no control over Tom leaving, though Ricky Fritscha and I did make a pretty good team in the years after. ‘Nuff said.

Audio highlight – Chad Ingalls INT return for a score.

#3 – Brunswick vs. Belmont Hill (NEPSAC Championship – November 19, 2005 at Hartford) – Once we hit the top 5, what more can you say? To say “this game had everything” is a cliché. In the case of the top five (or more – at least the top seven), it’s true. The B’s struggled to get going on this day, but once they did, they were hard to stop. The problem was, so was Belmont Hill. Kevin Decker, not sharp in the first portion of the game, went crazy as then game went on. The Bruins would fight back, get the lead, and hold on for 46-36 win. The thing that will always stand out to me was how professional the team was following the win. Here they were – winning their third straight championship, and they acted like it was no big deal. One of sports great mottos is “act like you’ve been there before.” Coach Sean Brennan and his Bruins personify that.

Audio highlight – Jack Taylor takes a touchdown pass from Kevin Decker.

#2 – Greenwich vs. New Canaan (FCIAC Championship – November 17, 2000 at Stamford) – It’s long forgotten now, but the Cardinals really weren’t supposed to be in this game. One loss in the FCIAC can generally spell doom for your conference title game hopes. The Cards had already lost to Staples, 14-8 on October 21 (Game # 13), but Staples went and lost to McMahon the last Saturday before the championship, thrusting Greenwich into the big game. The Rams and Cardinals exchanged touchdowns before Mike Westfal took over at quarterback for New Canaan and threw two touchdown passes. The Rams had a 21-14 lead and had to punt the ball back to Greenwich. Dean Capparelle blocked the punt, Tim Smallwood fell on it in the end zone, and bedlam ensued at Boyle Stadium. The Cardinals just had to make the point-after to tie the game. Not so fast! The Cardinals kicking game struggled all year, and quad-captain Michael Salvatore’s try was no good. The Cardinals would get the ball down into the Red Zone, and would try a field goal to win it with just under 2:00 to play. Again, the try was no good, and the Rams would run out the clock for the one-point win. Coach Al would take the blame (as he always does), saying that he shouldn’t have gone for the kick, allowing himself to be talked into it. Following the game, in one of the classiest and toughest things I’ve ever seen on a field, Salvatore allowed me to interview him. He didn’t take his helmet off, and I interviewed him through his mask as I watched tears run down his cheeks. That’s why the Salvatore’s are one of my favorite GHS football families. They’re tough and classy.

Audio highlight – The ecstasy and the agony

That’s enough for this time out. Next time – number one!

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