A lot on the line for Greenwich football during Turkey Day battle with Staples

Greenwich High School sophomore Frankie Alfano takes the snap during Homecoming at Cardinal Stadium. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School sophomore Frankie Alfano takes the snap during Homecoming at Cardinal Stadium. — John Ferris Robben photo

All of a sudden, things got very interesting for the Greenwich High School football team heading into tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Day game at Cardinal Stadium.

Not only are the Cardinals looking for its eighth consecutive victory of the season and second in a row over its rivals Staples High School, but Big Red can also smell the possibility of a state tournament appearance, something that seemed close to impossible a little over a month ago.

“This game means a lot to us,” GHS senior captain Austin Longi said. “We have a chance to get in the playoffs, so it’s kind of a role reversal from last year. It’s going to be a big game. I think our team really turned it around once week three hit. The team really got together as a family, worked together and got these seven wins as a team. It turned out to be a great season.”

The Cardinals had high hopes of a playoff appearance in the preseason, but losses to West Haven, Darien and New Canaan pushed GHS to 0-3 for the first time since Greenwich head coach Rich Albonizio took over the program 18 years ago.

In week four, Big Red turned around its season. Starting with a 28-13 victory over Trinity Catholic, Greenwich has been seeing the victories pile up.

In fact, Greenwich is on a seven game winning streak heading into tomorrow’s game with the Wreckers and has been averaging 31.1 points per game during its streak. The opposition hasn’t been able to score over 15 points during those seven games.

“At the beginning of the season, a lot of people had high expectations for us this year,” Greenwich senior captain Jack Weigold said. “I think going on a run like this and getting back to the possibility of a playoff spot shows that the captains stepped up and got the team to come together.”

As of press time, Greenwich is sitting ninth in the CIAC class LL standings with a 103.00 point average, one spot out of a postseason appearance. While a victory against the Wreckers on Turkey Day is certainly needed, the Cardinals are going to need some help from some key games tomorrow.

Cheshire, the seventh seed in class LL, will be playing No. 2 seeded and undefeated Southington. Fifth-seed Brien McMahon High School will travel across town and battle rival Norwalk High, while No. 8 seed Fairfield Prep will travel to Ken Strong Stadium and play West Haven.

Any losses for those teams in front of GHS could go a long way in helping the Cardinals reach the postseason.

“We knew it would be very difficult,” Albonizio said. “We are lucky that teams that are ahead of us with two losses have to match up. Someone is going to have three losses and with the point system the way it is, we can finish as high as sixth or we can finish out if we don’t win. It’s a challenge every year to get to the state tournament and it will be a tremendous accomplishment if we get there.”

While Albonizio is pleased with the way the players handled the pressure and adversity of the slow start, the head coach is over the moon with the way his coaching staff held everything together.

“As proud as I am of the kids, I think my coaching staff has done the best job that they’ve ever done in my 18 years of being here. To keep these kids motivated, with all the injuries and suspensions and going 0-3 in close games, is just amazing. My staff just kept on working and working. The kids did too. We overcame a lot here and I am proud of my staff and the kids.”

However first thing’s first for Greenwich, as a very motivated Staples High School football team will come into Cardinal Stadium tomorrow morning.

“I am all for Thanksgiving Day football,” Staples head coach Marce Petroccio. “Any time you have the opportunity to go against a team and program like Greenwich High School, with a Hall of Fame coach who does such a tremendous job with those kids, is a great challenge. It’s all about competition and our kids want to compete. Year in and year out, Greenwich is one of the best, so we are excited for the game.”

“It’s getting to be a good rivalry, which is something that a good Thanksgiving Day game is supposed to be,” Albonizio said. “Traditionally we have not had a rival. We played a lot of different teams on Thanksgiving until they settled on us and Staples. It’s been consistent for the past seven or eight years, so this is nice to have.”

The Wreckers would like nothing more than to do what Greenwich did to them last season. During the last Thanksgiving Day game, with Staples on the cusp of a state tournament berth, the Cards traveled to Westport and dominated the game en route to a 27-7 victory.

“The coaches have saying that Staples was in the same situation last year and we came out, beat them and kicked them out of States,” Weigold said. “We are just trying to prepare. I think we will be ready and we will come out hitting. The key is to defend the option and designate players to the quarterback.”

The Greenwich victory knocked the Wreckers out of the postseason and left a bitter taste in their mouths.

“We felt like last year we didn’t play with a lot of passion and that was upsetting to our kids,” Petroccio said. “We thought that Greenwich played with a tremendous amount of passion and it was evident on the field and after the game. There’s no doubt that last year is motivation for the kids, but the thing is that when we get together with Greenwich, we don’t need a lot of outside factors to motivate us.”

This year, both teams are bringing high-powered players to the rivalry.

Greenwich’s main focus this season has been in its running game. Leading the way has been Austin Longi, who has 592 yards and three touchdowns. While Longi has been unstoppable rushing the ball, he’s also the team’s leader in receptions, grabbing 406 yards and six touchdowns.

In addition to Longi, the duo of Ryan Pasquali and Luke Bienstock have been strong running the ball. Pasquali has 492 yards of offense and found the end zone three times. Not to be outdone is Bienstock, who has 464 yards and leads the rushing group with five touchdowns.

At tight end, Scooter Harrington has been stellar with 189 yards, while making some key catches for Big Red has been Anthony Ferraro, who has 267 yards and a touchdown. Walker Manning has made the best of his 10 catches, grabbing 133 yards.

While those six players have been stellar receivers, Albonizio believes that the offensive line play has been one of the biggest stars for Big Red.

Kevin Woodring at right tackle, Chase Piro at right guard, Chris Hann at center, Matheus Souza at left guard and Ian Bannon at left tackle have opened huge holes for the running game, protected the quarterback and gave Big Red’s receivers a plethora of time to get down the field.

“The offensive line is very young up there because of injuries, but we have done a great job,” Albonizio said. “They are doing the best they can do.”

In addition, sophomore Frankie Alfano will be looked upon at quarterback to pace the team. So far Alfano has rushed for just under 200 yards and has passed for 213 yards.

“Frankie is old-school,” Albonizio said. “He doesn’t play like a sophomore. He commands respect and the kids love playing for him. He’s tough and the kids know he brings a level of toughness that’s hard to find in a sophomore. Frankie would do anything for the team to get the job done.”

For the Wreckers, the game will revolve around starting quarterback Teddy Coogan, who has thrown for just over 400 yards and five touchdowns, but has also run for 264 yards. Ethan Burger will be the team’s go-to person on the running attack, as he’s amassed over 1,150 yards and found the end zone 10 times.

Leading the way for receiving yards has been Jake Melnick, who has 596 yards and nine touchdowns. Playing stellar football late for Staples has been tight end Ryan Fitton, who has caught just under 200 yards.

“All these guys will have a big part in what we are going to do, but the bottom line for us is stopping Austin Longi on defense,” Petroccio said. “Offensively we need to match up well up front with them. If we want to have any success, we are going to have to do all that and also match Greenwich’s intensity. This is a very good Greenwich football team.”

Although there’s the possibility of a state tournament appearance on the line for Greenwich, Albonizio is still keeping with the same preparation that he’s been doing since week one.

“We kept the kids focused on playing the team in front of us,” Albonizio said. “Whether it’s to get into the States or not, it is our kid’s last home game and it is Thanksgiving. We’re just approaching this game like it’s the last game of the year for us.”

And it’s no secret that a victory for Staples would be huge for its program.

“We know what the situations are for both teams. We’re not going to make the States and they have a great shot to make States if they beat us,” Petroccio said. “We are on a three-game win streak and they are on seven, so for us to come out of there with a win would be a great way to start the offseason program.”

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress