GREENWICH, Conn. – The Greenwich High School football team will need to rely on its rock-solid defense once again if it hopes to return to the conference championship game.
The Cardinals' only conference loss last season came Thanksgiving Day in the conference championship to Staples. Greenwich returns a solid core to build on the success of last year's 8-2 season.
However, the pressure for the defense to carry the team grew over the weekend after starting quarterback Liam O'Neil broke his right index finger. Greenwich Time reported that O'Neil will miss at least five weeks because of the injury. He also missed the first three weeks of last season after suffering a preseason concussion.
To make matters worse, backup quarterback Jose Melo is questionable for Friday's opener against Ridgefield. If Melo is unable to play, Greenwich will have to turn to wide receiver/free safety Alex McMurray to call the plays.
The video interview with head coach Rich Albonizio was conducted before O'Neil's injury
Eric's Take: Losing O'Neil for at least half the season is a devastating loss, especially considering how well he was throwing the ball in the preseason. However, Albonizio seemed confident in Melo's ability to hold down the fort. If he can get healthy and keep Greenwich in games, the Cardinals' defense is strong enough to keep the team in the playoff picture.
The season opener against Ridgefield takes on added importance with so many question marks suddenly appearing on the Greenwich offense.
Worst Case: Losing O'Neil could be a worst case, but it could get even more grim. Melo isn't ready for prime time and a young offensive line leads to a disastrous season on offense. The Greenwich defense does all it can, but losing the team's offensive leader proves to be too much to overcome.
Best Case: Melo proves Albonizio right as the heir apparent to the quarterback spot in Greenwich. McMurray and the Greenwich defense slip past Ridgefield, then take advantage of an easy stretch of games to hold out until O'Neil returns. The Cardinals then burn through their final three games to return to the conference championship.
Key Players: O'Neil, quarterback; Melo, quarterback; Vincent Ferraro, wide receiver; Joe Kelly, tight end; Mark Bernstein, running back; Dan Claroni, running back; Alex McMurray, defensive back; Taylor Olmstead, defensive back; and Alex McGee, defensive tackle.
Big Games: Sept. 14, Opening Night, at Ridgefield; Oct. 5 vs. Trumbull; Nov. 9 vs. Danbury; Nov. 22, Thanksgiving, vs. Staples.