GREENWICH -- The Staples High football team got back to playing 'Wrecker football.'
'Wrecker football' is about playing a hard-nosed style with intensity and relentlessness and Staples did just that in its Thanksgiving rivalry game against Greenwich, opening up a 21-0 first-quarter lead on its way to a 38-21 victory amid light snow falling on Thursday at Cardinal Stadium.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Wreckers (7-4 overall, 7-3 FCIAC), who ruined the state playoff hopes of the Cardinals (7-4, 7-3) and avenged a 27-7 pasting by Greenwich in last year's encounter.
"We came out and played with passion and we were determined to get a win," Staples head coach Marce Petroccio said. "We were very upset with how we played last year, not to take anything away from (head coach) Richie (Albonizio) or Greenwich because they are a great football team, but we felt we didn't play typical Wrecker football and we wanted to do that today, win, lose or draw, and I think we did it."
Staples dialed up a number of big plays in getting out to a big lead with senior quarterback Teddy Coogan and his arsenal of receivers, including tight end Ryan Fitton, doing most of the damage. Coogan finished 11-of-19 passing for 253 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while Fitton had three catches for 96 yards and two TDs.
"Teddy Coogan had a great day and Ryan Fitton is just a sophomore," Petroccio said. "We wanted to end the year on a great note and we did."
In addition, junior kicker Paul Tricarico tied the state record of 12 field goals in a season and the defense held the Greenwich offense, led by standout running back Austin Longi (6 rushes for 44 yards, 6 catches for 55), in check.
After taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards, capped by a Coogan to Evan Gilland 9-yard score and one of five extra points by Tricarico (10:20), the Wreckers 'D' was on display and it set the tone on Greenwich's first possession of the game.
On a third-and-10 from the Cardinals' 45, quarterback Frank Alfano was sacked by Gilland and Riley Petta causing a fumble with Jackson Hoebermann recovering on the 37.
"I'm really happy with how we played on defense," said standout senior linebacker Nicolaas Esposito, who had one of his team's five sacks on the day. "That (fumble) gave us a lot of momentum to get an early lead and from there it was about holding that lead. We know they love giving him (Longi) the ball so we based our defense around that and figured it out. Going out on a high note by winning our last four games means a lot to me and my teammates."
Three plays after the strip sack, Coogan hooked up with Fitton for a 34-yard touchdown (7:49) and a 14-0 lead.
Greenwich was forced to punt on its next possession and Staples proceeded to go on a six-play, 60-yard scoring push. A 31-yard catch by Colin Hoy from Coogan highlighted the drive and sophomore defender-turned-running back Ethan Burger (17 rushes, 100 yards) finished it off with a 8-yard TD run, bulling his way into the end zone (1:34).
The Big Red finally got on the scoreboard when Luke Bienstock ran a reverse and found the end zone from 5 yards out (6:06) but Soh Nakayama's extra point was blocked by Jackson Ward and Hoy for a 21-6 Staples edge.
On their next possession, the Wreckers went 72 yards in seven plays with Coogan finding Fitton on a quick slant down the middle of the field for a 55-yard touchdown with 2:25 remaining until halftime.
"It means the world to us," Coogan said of the victory. "We've had an up-and-down season but the thing we wanted most was to beat Greenwich and finish the season on a happy note. We were more motivated and focused than we've ever been.
"He's really grown and matured," he added of Fitton, who started out playing wide receiver before moving over to tight end. "He did a great job of getting open."
On the ensuing kickoff, the Fordham-bound Longi fielded his lone return of the contest and sprinted down the left sideline and cut in before hitting paydirt (2:11) for a 99-yard TD. The two-point conversion run failed so the Wreckers had a 28-12 lead.
"As soon as he caught it I said we're in trouble," Petroccio said. "He's just a great football player."
An interception by Greenwich's Joey Lanni set the Cardinals up at the Staples 41 and they got down to the 11 before the drive stalled due to a penalty and two straight incompletions in the end zone. Nakayama booted a 33-yard field goal just inside the left upright to give the Big Red a lift at the half and cut the lead to 28-15.
"I was shocked at how we played in the first quarter," said Albonizio, who had a hard believing that the Wreckers suffered losses to Danbury and Stamford with how well they played against his squad. "They were bigger and stronger than us up front and it showed. We couldn't protect our quarterback and we couldn't get the running game going until late in the game."
Albonizio also gave Coogan a great deal of credit for making plays all over the field and although he said his coaching staff did a nice job all year in rebounding from a 0-3 start, he admitted the Cardinals got outcoached by Staples.
Greenwich received the second-half kickoff yet went three-and-out with the Wreckers taking advantage.
A nine-play, 62-yard drive resulted in a 15-yard touchdown run by Owen Burke into the right corner of the end zone off a late option pitch by Coogan that gave Staples a commanding 35-15 lead with 6:27 left in the third quarter. Coogan (6 rushes, 49 yards) had a 20-yard run during the drive to move the sticks.
The Cardinals turned the ball over on downs on their next two possession, the latter giving Staples the ball on its 39.
Ten plays later, Tricarico tied the record with a 21-yard field goal for a 38-15 lead with 2:52 remaining in the game.
"It means a lot to be in the record book and to know I helped my team that much," the junior said. "I was thinking too much on my first one (a 36-yarder that just missed with 10:06 on the clock in the fourth quarter) and I just had to clear my mind. On the second one I just said screw it and I kicked it through. This means a lot to beat our rivals."
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