Plenty at stake for Greenwich in Thanksgiving Day football matchup vs. Staples
When FCIAC football rivals Greenwich and Staples met last Thanksgiving, the Wreckers needed a win to qualify for the Class LL Tournament, while the Cardinals played the role of spoiler.
This year, the roles have been reversed.
Riding a seven-game winning streak, Greenwich (7-3) enters its annual 10 a.m. Thanksgiving Day game against visiting Staples ranked ninth in Class LL. The Cardinals must beat the Wreckers and receive some help to earn a berth in the eight-team Class LL tourney. Losses by either seventh-ranked Cheshire, which plays second-ranked Southington on Saturday, or No. 6 Fairfield Prep (playing West Haven on Thanksgiving), coupled with a triumph over Staples, would put the Cardinals into the postseason.
Meanwhile, Staples (6-4), which had its playoff hopes dashed last season, courtesy of Greenwich, is aiming to keep the Cards out of the postseason. Greenwich topped Staples a year ago, 27-7, a defeat that ended the Wreckers' season.
"Our team has no doubt been reminded of what happened last year," said Staples coach Marce Petroccio, whose squad has won three straight games. "They have been reminded about that every day the past couple of weeks, I think our guys are sick of me talking about it. But it had to be discussed. I just felt like last year we didn't come out and play our best game against Greenwich, but they came out and were pretty pumped up."
Thursday marks the 10th consecutive Thanksgiving duel between the two squads with plenty being at stake almost every year. Before the Cardinals defeated the Wreckers in 2013, Staples downed GHS for the FCIAC championship in the 2012 and 2011 Thanksgiving games.
"It's turned into a great rivalry," Petroccio said. "It took a little while for it to get going, but we've had some great games against each other the past several years. Greenwich is a well-coached football team with a heck of a tradition. It doesn't matter what their record is, they're always going to give us a tough game."
Battling for a playoff spot didn't seem possible after the Cardinals began the season 0-3, falling to West Haven, Darien and New Canaan.
"To be in this position with all the adversity our team went through says a lot about our kids," GHS coach Rich Albonizio said. "We are like the walking dead -- we won't go away."
There's no secret to Greenwich's recent success. Since Week 4, the Cards' defense, led by All-FCIAC First Team selections Jack Weigold (senior linebacker) and Taulant Bici (senior linebacker) has yielded an average of 10 points per game.
"Our defense has been a constant for us all year," Albonizio said. "We've been pretty healthy defensively and have had a good core of kids on the field all the time."
Despite shuffling linemen around due to injuries, Greenwich's offense has displayed pretty consistent play, thanks to its running attack. Despite missing two games with an injured shoulder, senior All-FCIAC First-Team selection Austin Longi has rushed for 826 yards and has totaled more than 400 receiving yards. Longi was a tough matchup for the Wreckers last season, running for three touchdowns in the Cards' 27-7 triumph.
"Longi is a tremendous talent," Petroccio said. "He has incredible speed and balance. You think you have a shot at him, then he just runs away from you. He's definitely a game-changer."
The Wreckers' defense, which is anchored by All-FCIAC First-Team members Will Newman (senior defensive lineman, 89 tackles), Evan Gilland (junior defensive lineman, 65 tackles) and Nick Esposito (senior linebacker, team-high 106 tackles), must also focus on Greenwich running backs Ryan Pasquali (650 yards rushing for the season) and Luke Bienstock.
"You can't just focus on Longi," Petroccio said. "They have really good running backs and they also put those guys in patterns and throw the ball to them."
The Wreckers have allowed just 25 points over their last three games.
"Staples is always very tough defensively," Albonizio said. "They're a strong team that's lost to some very good football teams like New Canaan and Xavier. One of they keys for us is how well we can run the ball. If we can run the ball well we feel we can beat anyone."
Said Petroccio: "We've seen a lot of improvement from our defense. Our guys on defense are playing fast and they have gotten so much better at forcing turnovers."
Sophomore Frank Alfano has filled in admirably at quarterback since senior Matt Marzulla broke his collar bone against Bridgeport Central in Greenwich's eighth game of the season.
"Frankie is like an old-time Greenwich player," Albonizio said. "He's a throwback player -- someone who never misses a weight room session and points to himself first when something doesn't work out. He's a very tough player."
Staples' option attack is led by senior quarterback Teddy Coogan (411 yards passing, five touchdowns). Senior Trevor Shearer (650 passing yards) also gets snaps under center.
"Teddy has come on as far as running the offense and he's totally healthy now," Petroccio said. "We have a player to change things up in Shearer -- we may use both on Thursday."
"Offensively at times, they have been fantastic," Albonizio said. "What they do with the option power game is hard to stop. Defending the option, which Staples executes so well, is very difficult. You have to put pressure on people and be aggressive."
More InformationWhat: Greenwich (7-3) vs. Staples (6-4)
Where: Cardinal Stadium
When: Thursday, 10 a.m.
Last season's meeting: Austin Longi rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns in Greenwich's 27-7 road win over Staples. The loss kept the Wreckers out of the postseason.
Series history: Staples is 6-4 against Greenwich dating back to the 2004 season, including a 6-3 mark since the teams began playing on Thanksgiving in 2005. Greenwich's win last season snapped Staples' four-game winning streak against the Cardinals. The rivals played for the FCIAC title on Thanksgiving in 2011 and 2012, with Staples registering victories of 31-27 and 48-30, respectively.
Season recap: Staples -- After beginning the season with a 3-0 loss to Xavier, Staples shut out Wilton and Westhill, before it was edged by Stamford 37-34. Since suffering back-to-back losses to Danbury and New Canaan, the Wreckers have won three straight, cruising past Trumbull, Bridgeport Central and Norwalk.
Greenwich -- The Cardinals have been one of the hottest teams in the state since starting their year 0-3, ripping off seven straight victories. They haven't allowed more than 15 points during their win streak.
Top offensive players: Staples -- Ethan Burger, sophomore, running back; Jake Melnick, senior wide receiver; Teddy Coogan, senior quarterback; Jackson Hoebermann, senior OL; James Black, senior OL.
Top offensive players: Greenwich -- Austin Longi, senior running back/receiver; Ryan Pasquali, senior running back; Scooter Harrington, senior tight end; Kevin Woodring, junior OL; Chris Hann, senior OL; Ian Bannon, junior OL; Luke Bienstock, junior running back.
Top defensive players: Staples -- Nick Esposito, senior linebacker; Will Newman senior DL; Evan Gilland, senior DL.
Top defensive players: Greenwich -- Jack Weigold, senior linebacker; Taulant Bici, senior linebacker; Peter Agro, senior linebacker; Domenic Colasacco, senior DL
Key matchup: Austin Longi vs. Staples' defense: Hurt by Longi's 224 rushing yards a year ago, the Wreckers must do a better job of keeping the Cardinals' main offensive threat under wraps Thursday.