Since last year’s loss to Staples in the FCIAC championship on Thanksgiving, a game in which Greenwich led late, the Cardinals have been on a mission this season to get back to the title game and repay the Wreckers.
Only one more game lay between what’s felt like an inevitable rematch, but the way the Cardinals have played this year, Thursday night’s game against Danbury (2-7) felt more like a formality.
But needing to win to qualify for the FCIAC title game, the Cardinals weren’t concerned about the other team’s record, as they epitomized laser-sharp focus in their 54-8 dismantling of the Hatters.
“I think a lesser team might have looked passed this game, but we did not at all,” said senior quarterback Liam O’Neill, who threw for 150 yards and a touchdown. “We were focused on Danbury.”
Greenwich (8-0) wasted no time proving that as the Cardinals quickly jumped out to a 6-0 lead two minutes in. Alex McMurray capped a 69-yard drive, which was highlighted by a Mark Bernstein 41-yard run, with a four-yard touchdown plunge.
“We tried to establish the run game; I think that was coach (Rich Albonizio’s) intent from the start,” said O’Neill. “He’s an old-school dude, he wants to pound the ball, and I think that’s what we did today real well.”
Following a three-and-out by Danbury, McMurray scored again from 11 yards out to give the Cardinals a 13-0 with 7:16 left in the first quarter.
Things turned from bad to worse for the Hatters as they fumbled their first play after the ensuing kickoff. But Danbury was able to force the Cardinals to punt and strung together a nice drive, which began at their two-yard line.
Quarterback Elijah Duffy connected on three consecutive passes to buy the Hatters some breathing room before connecting with Corey Chaffee on a 54-yard pass to bring Danbury to the Greenwich 13-yard line.
But that’s all the Greenwich starters would yield, and Danbury turned the ball over on downs.
“We made a few mental mistakes, a few easy things we could fix,” said safety Taylor Olmstead. “We made the adjustments on the sidelines, and we fixed it from there, and we stepped up and played hard defense.”
The Cardinals capitalized with a long touchdown drive, which Dan Carloni capped with a punishing six-yard touchdown run. The Greenwich defense took over the rest of the half by not allowing a Danbury first down before the break.
An Austin Longi 47-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Cardinals a 34-0 lead to all but seal the game.
“We’re just trying to make big plays as much as possible and make it easy on our offense, and get as close to the end zone as possible,” said Longi, who also had a 30-yard punt return for a touchdown.
By halftime, the Cardinals had a 41-0 lead. With most of the second team on the field to open the half, the talk on the sideline finally turned to Staples.
“We’re already talking about it,” said Olmstead. “We’re going to come in to watch the film tomorrow, and we’re just going to prepare. We’re going to work hard all week in practice and just get to know them.
“It’s going to be a battle on Thanksgiving.”