Greenwich’s playoff chase wrecked by Staples on Turkey Day

Greenwich High School sophomore quarterback Frankie Alfano scrambles for some yardage during the Thanksgiving Day game against Staples High School. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School sophomore quarterback Frankie Alfano scrambles for some yardage during the Thanksgiving Day game against Staples High School. — John Ferris Robben photo

The Greenwich High School football team feels a lot like Staples High School did last season.

Needing a victory to fight for a playoff spot in the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament, Big Red had to come out of Cardinal Stadium with a victory against its rivals from Westport.

However, the Wreckers were out for revenge. Scoring three touchdowns to start the game, Staples dominated Greenwich from the start, coming away with the stunning 38-21 victory on Thanksgiving Day.

“They were bigger and stronger than us,” Greenwich High School head coach Rich Albonizio said. “They were much more prepared than we were. They jumped out to that 21-0 lead and all our weaknesses showed up today. We weren’t able to establish our running game early and we were forced to throw. They were better than us today.”

After starting the season 0-3 and winning its next seven games, the loss for Greenwich on Turkey Day ended its chances at a playoff appearance. During last year’s Thanksgiving Day game, played at Staples High School, the Wreckers were one win away from the postseason, but a commanding 27-7 victory for the Cards ended Staples’ hopes for the playoffs.

“We came out today and played with passion,” Staples High School head coach Marce Petroccio said. “We were determined to get the win. We were very upset with the way we played last year. Not to take anything away from Greenwich, but I don’t think we came out with and played typical Wrecker football. We did that toady.”

Greenwich got on the board with a Luke Bienstock 4-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter.  The Cardinals ended the game with a Ryan Pasquali 26-yard touchdown reception with 46 seconds to play in the game. GHS added a field goal to end the half, courtesy of Soh Nakayama.

Big Red senior Austin Longi tries to shake a Staples High School defender during the Turkey Day game at Cardinal Stadium. — John Ferris Robben photo

Big Red senior Austin Longi tries to shake a Staples High School defender during the Turkey Day game at Cardinal Stadium. — John Ferris Robben photo

“We came out flat in the first and second quarters,” wide receiver Anthony Ferraro said. “We tried get things going in the second half, but our offense wasn’t clicking. We won seven games in a row and I am very happy with that. Unfortunately we lost this one, but we are still a family and stayed together.”

Big Red’s other touchdown came when Austin Longi took a kickoff from the 12-yard line and bolted 88 yards for the touchdown with 2:11 to play in the half.

“It’s my last time putting on a Cardinal uniform and that’s very emotional, but I thought we played to the best of our ability,” Longi said. “Staples came out fast, but surged back. I thought we let up a little bit at halftime and it got bad. We have some soft spots that we have to fix up and we didn’t do that today. Looking on the bright side, I thought we had a great year and came back from 0-3. Unfortunately we lost in the end.”

Staples came out like a team trying to prove something. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Wreckers wasted little time finding the end zone.

On the first play of the game, quarterback Teddy Coogan stepped back and found Jake Melnick for a 60-yard reception down the Staples’ sideline. Four plays later, Coogan completed the 9-yard pass to Evan Gilland for the touchdown and 7-0 lead.

Three plays into Greenwich’s first drive, Jackson Hoebermann recovered a fumble from GHS sophomore quarterback Frankie Alfano and the Wreckers were back in business. After an 11-yard completion to Gilland, Coogan fired a pass to Ryan Fitton for the 34-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead.

After Big Red was forced to punt on its next possession, Staples found the end zone once more. On a drive that was highlighted by a 31-yard leaping catch by Colin Hoy on a third down and 12, Ethan Burger took the handoff and plowed eight yards up the middle for the touchdown and 21-0 lead with 1:34 left in the first quarter.

“This feels awesome right now,” Petroccio said. “We played so hard today. I think that we got such a fast start and that was huge. We really limited our turnovers and played pretty good defense. We didn’t stop Austin Longi, but we held him in check. We made plays when we had to make plays.”

Greenwich started to get things going in the second quarter. After Staples’ punted the ball to Greenwich, Big Red was forced to start its ensuing drive from its own 1-yard line. Highlighted by pass completions of 31 and 28 yards to Longi, Bienstock completed the 10-play drive with a 4-yard run to the right side and cut the deficit to 21-6.

Staples didn’t back down and immediately marched down the field and finished its 7-play drive with a quick pass from Coogan to Fitton. Fitton caught the ball in stride, sprinted down the middle of the field and outran all his Greenwich defenders for the 45-yard touchdown reception.

With 2:25 to play in the half, Staples stretched its lead to 28-6, but it didn’t stay that way long. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball sailed right to Longi, who caught the ball at the 12, shook two defenders and weaved his way down the GHS sideline 88 yards for the touchdown.

“As soon as he caught it, I knew we were in trouble,” Petroccio said. “He’s just a great football player. He’s going to have a great career in college.”

“The problem with having a kid like Austin is that everybody just wants to watch him play,” Albonizio said. “It could be third and 20 or first and 10. You give him the ball and everybody just stands back and watches him. Everybody expects him to run for a touchdown. He’s a special kid.”

Greenwich’s Joey Lanni picked off Coogan on Staples’ next possession and a 31-yard field goal by Nakayama to end the half put Greenwich within striking distance at 28-15.

With the loss, Greenwich ended it season with a 7-4 record.

“We need to get stronger, especially up front,” Albonizio said. “We need to also stay healthy. We lost a lot of kids. Devin McGrath didn’t even get to play, we lost Justin Montier in the second game of the season and Matt Marzulla during the season. It’s hard to overcome things when you’re playing with sophomores out there. I thought in our three losses to start the season, we had chances to win all three games.”

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