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Wreckers Hang Tough

NEW CANAAN -- For at least the first half on Friday night at James Dunning Field, the Staples High School football team did many of the things necessary to pull off the upset of undefeated and No. 1 New Canaan.

Over the first 24 minutes the Wreckers ran two plays for every one the Rams snapped, they reached the home 46, 24, 3 and their own 49 on four of their five possessions, and Staples' defense turned aside a pair of New Canaan marches that ended in missed field goals.

Unfortunately for the visitors, the Rams are not the top-ranked team in the state for nothing.

New Canaan used a total of six plays to score a touchdown in each of the first two quarters -- taking advantage of a muffed snap to go 49 yards in two plays for the opening score -- en route to the 35-2 FCIAC victory.

Staples dropped to 3-4, while the Rams improved to 7-0.

"Our defense played tough, but this game was a microcosm of our entire season," said Staples head coach Marce Petroccio. "We make too many mistakes. (New Canaan) is an excellent football team, and well-coached. I thought our kids fought hard. Our offensive line played well. They have some pride. But we gave up too many big plays."

Staples took the opening kickoff and appeared to bog down, facing a third-and-9 at its 36.

Quarterback Trevor Shearer connected with 6-foot-5 sophomore wide receiver Ryan Fitton for 18 yards, moving the chains to the 46.

The first of those frustrating errors cropped up when Shearer could not handle the snap, and outside linebacker Zach Allen -- a timely force throughout the contest -- fell on the loose ball a yard inside Wrecker territory.

Quarterback Michael Collins hit wideout Michael Kraus for 48 yards down the visitors' sideline, and running back Frank Cognetta bulled over for the final.

Reliable kicker Peter Swindell saw his point-after kick sail wide left, and the Rams led 6-0 at 9:54 of the opening period.

"I think they're young," New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli said of the fairly inexperienced Wreckers. "But they are well-coached, and they had us on the ropes early. We were stymied, and it wasn't until the second half that we were able to make adjustments. I'm very proud of the way my kids handled an adverse situation. Our conditioning helped us out. I think the adjustments of our coaches on our sideline were really helping us."

The Wreckers responded from their 20, as Shearer kept possession by lunging for 3 yards on fourth-and-1 from the 29.

This drive would stall three plays later at the 38.

Swindell missed from 41 yards out, ending a 10-play march that reached the Staples' 24.

The Wreckers did nearly the same thing, using nine plays -- plus a New Canaan holding penalty -- to set up first-and-10 at the Ram 24.

That's' as far as that drive would go, and Allen batted down a third-and-10 pass.

Paul Tricarico pulled his 41-yard field goal attempt to the left, and it remained 6-0 -- but not for long.

A questionable holding penalty on the visitors put the Rams at their 23, and Collins then found wide receiver Alex LaPolice streaking down the home sideline for a 77-yard trip to the end zone.

A little razzle-dazzle on the 2-point try -- running back Matthew Cognetta tossed a pass to Collins -- made it 14-0 with 8:10 left before halftime.

The Wreckers patiently marched 14 plays to the New Canaan 3. A 27-yard Shearer-to-Connor Adrian pass got the drive ignited, and running back Ethan Burger ripped off 39 yards on three carries.

This time another bad snap forced Shearer to recover the ball at the 17, and Allen knocked the ball from Shearer's hand two plays later on third down.

Lucas Niang, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound defensive tackle, pushed his way into the way of Tricarico's 34-yard field goal attempt, keeping Staples off the scoreboard with 1:44 left in the second quarter.

The blocked kick rolled dead at the 9, and defensive end Will Newman slammed Collins to the end-zone turf on the next snap for a safety, getting the wreckers on the board.

"(New Canaan) played a lot harder than we expected them to; we thought they might look past us," Newman said. "They came out hard. We have to execute better. We can't make mistakes. We always make mistakes at the worst times. Our coaches teach us what we need to know. (On the safety) it was simple chop move, I flipped my hips, and hit the quarterback."

Staples stopped the Rams on their first possession of the third quarter, but could do nothing with the ensuing drive.

A 16-yard, Collins-to-LaPolice strike for a 21-2 advantage began to put the game out of reach with 3:31 left in the third.

"We can't finish drives, for multiple reasons, for whatever reasons," Petroccio said. "Allen beat us again. He's a Division I football player."

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