Postseason implications and cold weather — those are the two aspects that are usually attached to each Greenwich-Staples Thanksgiving Day football game.
Bundle up, because it’s supposed to be bone-chilling cold when the Cardinals and Wreckers renew their Thanksgiving rivalry Thursday at 10 a.m. in Greenwich. And of course, this matchup once again, features certain playoff scenarios.
Though Greenwich (9-0) already clinched a berth in the eight-team CIAC Class LL Tournament, it is seeded fifth and could improve its seeding with a win over Staples. With a record of 7-2, Staples is ranked ninth in Class LL with 102.22 points. The Wreckers must defeat Greenwich and hope that Darien beats No. 8 New Canaan (103.33 points) on Thanksgiving in order to qualify for the postseason. Should Staples and New Canaan both emerge victorious Thursday, then a playoff berth between the two squads, will be determined by a tiebreaker, based on multiple other Thanksgiving games.
Wreckers first-year coach Phil Treglia is aware of the scenarios involving his squad and the playoffs, but he’s only worried about what the team can control.
“We have to win to have a chance to get in, we are just going to try to beat Greenwich,” Treglia said. “The kids know we have to some how and some way win our game against Greenwich. That’s the only game we’re focused on.”
The Wreckers rebounded from a tough 17-14 loss against St. Joseph by upending Stamford, 37-0, to keep their postseason hopes alive. Behind junior quarterback Jake Thaw and senior running back Tim Luciano, Staples possesses a balanced offense, which like the rest of the squad, has made significant strides throughout the season. Staples, whose other loss came against Darien, is averaging 29 points per game. Seniors Matt Amasi and Dean Gendel anchor the Wreckers’ effective offensive line.
“The team has been great since we started and has improved since the spring and summer,” Treglia said. “We’re a hard-nosed football team that is prepared. We’ve been in some big games — some close games.”
Tight matchups hasn’t been the norm at all for Greenwich, which has cruised past its opponents this fall. Averaging 46 points a game, the Cardinals’ closest call was a ultra-convincing 42-14 road triumph against New Canaan. The Cards have beaten every other foe by 30 points or more.
“We haven’t really played four quarters of football,” said GHS coach John Marinelli, whose Cardinals notched a 31-14 win over the Wreckers last Thanksgiving. “We’ve only had two fourth quarter games — Ridgefield (a 33-3 win) and New Canaan — so can we maintain the same level of tenacity we’ve shown in our wins, for four quarters against Staples is a the question. This will be our toughest test of the season so far. Looking at Staples, they are bigger than us in certain spots and they match up well with us.”
Treglia hopes Staples’ defense, which has been stingy all season, can challenge the Cardinals’ potent offense, led by senior quarterback Gavin Muir, senior running back Tysen Comizio and junior running back Spencer Hartley.
“Their quarterback is having a fantastic year, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” Treglia said. “They have two or three running backs, who are really good and they run a good offensive system. We’re playing one of the best teams in the state that’s having a tremendous year, we have a great challenge ahead of us and we’re ready to go.”
Muir has thrown 21 touchdown passes, while being intercepted just five times.
“Gavin has done a great job of making sure everyone is playing their position, he is one of a kind,” Marinelli said. “He has shown a lot of patience his senior year, which has really helped him out. He and his receivers have really come on strong of late.”
Paced by defensive linemen Mozi Bici, Emilio Camou and Eddy Iuteri and linebackers Jack Feda and Larry DeLuca, Greenwich has registered three shutouts and has yielded a mere 41 points in nine games. Marinelli expects his defensive unit to be tested against the Wreckers, who have seen Luciano rush for 873 yards and Thaw gain almost 700 yards on the ground. Thaw has also passed for more than 1,000 yards.
“Offensively, they run their system very well,” Marinelli said of Staples. “They run the ball effectively, they spread it out with their passing game and they play within themselves. Chewing up time on the clock and getting first downs is what they do — they’re very surgeon-like on offense. They will pick you apart with their offense, gaining five yards at a time, four yards at a time, so we have to try to force turnovers and prevent them from having 15-play drives.”
Sparked by defensive end Blake Runkle, linebacker Cole Brockwell, defensive lineman George Harrington and linebacker Cameron Lynch, all of whom are among the squad’s leading tacklers, Staples knows it must do what all foes have failed to accomplish — limit Greenwich’s big-play offense.
“Our defense knows it has to stand up to the challenge Greenwich’s offense presents,” Treglia said. “We are very exciting about playing on Thanksgiving. This is what high school football is all about. I’ve been telling our guys to take a little time to look around and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Said Marinelli: “Both teams have a lot to play for and I know we’re both fired up. It’s going to be one great football game.”