Greenwich High football shines in opener, tames Tigers, 20-7

Greenwich High School had the odds stacked against it Friday during the first football game of the regular season.

Big Red was playing without their starting quarterback sidelined with a fractured finger, one of their backup quarterbacks was playing with a knee brace, they were playing a solid Ridgefield team looking for revenge from last year’s opening night loss, and this time around Greenwich was playing in front of a packed house at Ridgefield’s Tiger Hollow Stadium.

While it wasn’t the cleanest game Big Red has played, it was definitely effective. Using a two-quarterback system, getting some clutch field goals and possessing a stifling defense that the Tigers couldn’t solve, the Cardinals walked into Tiger Hollow and kept their FCIAC championship dreams in check by winning 20-7.

“Every game in this league is tough and you can’t let your guard down at all,” Greenwich High School head coach Rich Albonizio said. “This win opens it up for us to stay in the hunt and keep the target on our backs. It’s nice because we were away and we knew they were fired up. They had a full house, but we knew we could move the ball using our two quarterback system. We were confident we could move the ball.”

The Cardinals got off on the right foot early on. On its first possession, Greenwich had the ball on its 30, but that’s when back-up quarterback Jose Melo stepped back and found senior captain and tight end Joe Kelly and hit him in stride for the 70-yard touchdown throw with 8:49 to play in the first quarter.

The combination of Melo and Kelly got the better of Ridgefield late in the first quarter. On the first play of a five-play scoring drive, Melo found Kelly, who reeled in the over-the-shoulder grab for 41 yards and got the ball to the seven-yard line. Four plays later, Big Red found the end zone when Greenwich senior captain and backup quarterback Alex McMurray called his own number with 58.3 left.

“It was a great win and we were all fired up,” Kelly said. “We really stuck it to them in the first half. We started out slow in the second half, but we picked it up and really came through. They were playing a defense I love. I love it when a guy is up close on me, so I was able to get by him easily. Jose was also throwing the ball great.”

The rest of Big Red’s points were scored by senior kicker Jesse Adelberg, who split the uprights on a 32-yard and 37-yard field goal.

“I have been anticipating this game so much,” Adelberg said. “Every practice I would kick hundreds of balls non-stop so I could be ready for this game. I hit a couple of good field goals, but I am also upset that I missed two. They were totally my fault, as I took my head off the ball.”

The biggest question heading into the game was what was going to happen behind center for Greenwich. With Liam O’Neil sidelined for about a month with his fractured finger, GHS went with the tandem of Melo and McMurray. When Melo’s behind center, Greenwich can utilize its high-powered air game. McMurray, a hard-nosed running back, gives Big Red the choice of running the wildcat offense or possibly the option.

Throughout the game against the Tigers, the duo of McMurray and Melo were quite effective. Melo, who was at the quarterback position throughout most of the game, finished the day going 11-for-18 for 249 yards. McMurray added 98 yards on the ground on 25 carries.

“It feels great,” McMurray. “This was the most important game of the season and that’s why we came out with a victory. We took a big blow when we lost our quarterback, but our line stepped it up and we used a lot of our running game today. Both Jose (Melo) and I stepped up at quarterback and played well.”

On the ground, Mark Bernstein had a breakout game, leading Big Red with 125 yards on the ground on 13 carries. Just after Ridgefield scored, Greenwich got the ball back with 2:16 to play in the half and Bernstein keyed the drive right from the start. He took the screen pass from Melo on the Greenwich 31 in the middle of the field, darted to his right and sprinted down the GHS sideline for the 42-yard gain. That play got Big Red in field goal range and Adelberg converted.

A drive earlier, Greenwich was on the Ridgefield 48 and on a second down, Bernstein got the handoff and again ran down the GHS sideline, this time for 39 yards and advanced the ball to the nine-yard line.

“Bernstein played really well tonight,” Albonizio said. “He’s a real tough kid. He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he knows how to run.”

Greenwich’s outstanding play on defense gave Ridgefield starting quarterback Connor Rowe fits throughout the evening. Late in the third quarter, the Tigers were threatening to put more points on the scoreboard, as they were in the red zone. However, GHS safety Taylor Olmstead was able to intercept Rowe in the end zone. Earlier in the second quarter, Rowe was stopped again. Facing a fourth down, Rowe stepped back to throw, but was sacked by Greenwich senior lineman Alex McGee and RHS was forced to turn the ball over on downs.

Rowe finished going 12-for-26 for 220 yards and threw only one touchdown, a 30-yard strike to Sam Gravitte with time running down in the first half. Gravitte was Ridgefield’s go-to person on offense, as he finished with 84 yards on five completions.

“Defense came up big,” Albonizio said. “Last year our defense also played well, probably their best game of the year. This year we did a nice job against their running game. They hurt us with passing, but we will get better.”

While Greenwich came up with the victory, Albonizio believes that his team’s final score should have been a lot higher. On Big Red’s first series in the second half, they marched down the field and had a third down and goal at the Ridgefield 6. Mike Longo took the handoff, ran to the left and easily found the end zone; however, a penalty on the play erased the touchdown. Then back-to-back false start penalties moved the ball all the way back to the Ridgefield 27 and a play later the GHS field goal attempt went wide left.

In the fourth quarter, Greenwich was again threatening, as it had a second down and four at the Ridgefield 5. However, back-to-back personal fouls and a delay of game penalty moved the ball back to the Ridgefield 39.

“We made a game that was very difficult and it could have made it much easier for us,” Albonizio said. “We had a lot of penalties and a touchdown called back. Last year was the same thing. We had two touchdowns that we should have had that we didn’t get. Every time we get near the goal line, something always seems to happen. I don’t understand it sometimes.”

With the win, GHS will hit the road to Kennedy Stadium tomorrow at 4:30 for a game against Bassick High School.

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