The stands were filled and the parking lots were harder to navigate than the ones in and around Yankee Stadium. What does that mean? Football is back in Greenwich.
After a dismal 5-5 record last year the Greenwich Cardinals are looking to turn it around this season and head north of 500. If Friday night's 16-3 victory over Ridgefield was a preview of the how they are going to do that, it will be with hard work, great defense and excellent special teams.
With Liam O’Neil sidelined with a concussion suffered in the team's last scrimmage against Masuk, the Cardinals sent out sophomore Jose Melo to call the signals.
The young quarterback looked comfortable under center, showing off a strong arm, often too stong, as coach Rich Albonzio noted after the game. His inexperience saw him go 3-for-17 with less than 40 yards passing and one interception.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals' defense and special teams came ready to play and supported Melo. It took them only a 1 1/2 minutes to convey that message.
Greenwich halted Ridgefield's offense at its 16-yard line on the opening drive of the game, forcing a punt. Greenwich senior linebacker Kyle Camacho burst through the line to block the punt into the end zone for a safety.
With the crowd energized and the emotion meter swung in their direction, it seemed like the Cardinals would steamroll Ridgefield the rest of the evening.
On the next drive, running back Mike Daly took a snap direct from center 60 yards into the end zone.
However, the crowd'ss euphoria was quickly quelled when Greenwich was called for holding on the play and it was brought back.
That play seemed to awaken Ridgefield’s defense, which went toe to toe with Greenwich’s, stopping everyone of the Cardinals' first-half drives. The momentum then swung further in their direction when Sam Gravitte converted a 22-yard field goal with 2:05 remaining in the first half.
Ridgefield went into the halftime break with energy and enthusiasm as it look liked the Tigers could actually steal a victory on the Cardinals' home turf.
Greenwich, after a called-back touchdown with a penalty and a fumble by Joel Arroyo at Ridgefield's 1-yard line, was still searching for how to get points on the board.
Fifteen seconds into the second half, the Cardinals found out how they were going to do that: special teams and defense.
With his teammates standing on the sideline encouraging him to take it to the house and redeem himself after his fumble, Arroyo who acknowledged their request with a wave and salute. He caught the kickoff between the 7- and 8-yard line, ran to his right to avoid a tackle, cut through a hole and scampered up the left sideline 92 yards for a touchdown that turned out to the winning score in the game.
From that point, the Cardinals controlled the game, shutting down Ridgefield’s attack and forcing five turnovers . The big one was Mike Daly’s 82-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:54 remaining in the third quarter. Daly ran the identical path teammate Arroyo did on his kickoff return.
With the score 16 -3 and 3:33 remaining in the game, the light post at the northeast end of the stadium went dark. After debating whether or not to see if they would go back on, the officials decided to just turn the game around and had the play continue in the other direction under the lighted part of the field.
That move seemed to help Ridgefield as the Tigers marched into the red zone and looked as if they would score the game's first offensive touchdown.
With 1:50 left, Ridgefield quarterback Connor Rowe (20-of-34 for 235) yards) tossed a dart to the 1-yard line, only to have it intercepted by junior Joe Kelly.
Greenwich then ran the clock our for their first victory and a stamp of approval for their special teams and defense.
Both teams return to the field next Saturday. The Cardinals (1-0) face off against Bassick at home while Ridgefield (0-1) will have its home opener against Fairfield Ludlowe.