Football: Masuk defeats New Canaan to gain state final

Masuk High’s Nick Lorusso hauls in a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Hersch. — David G. Whitham photos

Matt Hersch quarterbacked Masuk High to a 21-0 halftime lead, and the Panther defense added a touchdown and held visiting New Canaan scoreless until late in the final period, when coach Joe Lato’s Panthers won a 28-14 in the CIAC Class L playoff semifinals at Benedict Field on Sunday.

Masuk (11-1), seeded fifth, will play second-seeded Daniel Hand of Madison (11-1) for the state title next Saturday at 11 a.m. at New Britain’s Veterans Stadium.

The Tigers defeated Windsor High, 31-6, in their semi. Masuk’s last trip to the championship game came in 2010 when it defeated New Canaan, 50-20.

“Seeding means nothing,” Lato said. “Matty said last week (after a win over Fitch) that we would have to go through New Canaan, they are four or five-time defending champs. The standard here at Masuk is to play tough and be physical. We are trying to live up to that.”

Peter Cosmedy drops New Canaan’s Griffin Arnone.

New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, the winningest coach in state history, said, “We were outcoached, we were out-hit, we were out-hustled, we were out-everything. I take my hat off to Joe and his staff. I think they did a tremendous job, and those kids played their hearts out. If they play like that, they’ll win a state championship.”

Hersch completed 22-of-27 passes for 236 yards in the first half and led Masuk on 60- and 61-yard touchdown drives on its first two possessions.

Off play-action, Hersch connected with Nick Lorusso on a slant for a 4-yard score with 10:06 left in the first period.

After a three-and-out by the eighth-seeded Rams, Hersch completed 6-of-7 passes, including a 15-yard TD to Lorusso, who made a spinning grab at the 4:31 mark of the opening quarter. It was Hersch’s 34th TD pass on the season.

Nick Lebinski (42) had a pair of quarterback sacks and intercepted a pass.

“The O-line stepped it up, as they have all season,” Hersch said. “We knew we just had to play (our) football. We have threats all over the field and I just look to get them the ball.”

Late in the first half, Masuk went 65 yards for another score. Mickey Zuk had two catches and Lorusso hauled in a 28-yarder over his shoulder.

Peter Cosmedy, a stalwart on defense, got the call from the one and scored on a plunge behind the O-line that included Max Mirizio, Curtis Swain, Alex Lee, Sam Nalaboff, Chris Teixeira and Ben Kittnick.

Masuk’s defense threw a wrinkle at 9-3 New Canaan, rushing only two or three players and dropping seven or eight into coverage.

Lato said: “It was just the other side of the coin. You could pressure him, but he usually does very well against pressure. Drew Pyne’s the best of both worlds. He can get rid of the ball quickly and he can scramble. We just said, ‘All right, let’s try to take away all his windows and get him off timing.’ When he scrambles, that’s our best opportunity to sack him.”

Pyne, a sophomore who threw for 2,113 yards and 23 touchdowns coming in, moved the chains twice to open the third quarter, before the Panthers’ Kevin Harper, Jack Duignan and finally Nick Lebinski (with an 8-yard sack) forced a punt.

Lebinski, on New Canaan’s next series, intercepted a pass at the Masuk 26.

Masuk gave the ball right back, but on the third play Zuk intercepted a pass and returned it 46 yards for a TD.

Nolan McCarter’s fourth conversion kick took the score to 28-0 with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

New Canaan’s Quintin O’Connell caught TD passes good for 18 yards with 4:56 left and a 1-yarder with 1:22 remaining.


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