A home game in the quarterfinal round of the Class LL Tournament and an undefeated regular season, Greenwich’s first since 2004 — that’s what a Thanksgiving Day victory over FCIAC West Division rival Staples would give the Greenwich High School football team.
“Any rivalry game at the end of the year is a game you circle on your calendar and you want to be able to win,” Cardinals coach John Marinelli said. “It’s a big game for us to finish the regular season undefeated and an opportunity to have the postseason possibly go through Cardinal Stadium. You don’t have to find motivation in the locker room, they know what’s at stake.”
Though Thursday’s 10 a.m. home game game marks the final matchup of the season for the Wreckers, they are aiming to finish their year with a record of 7-3 and deal the Cards their first loss.
“This is a great Thanksgiving rivalry and anything can happen in a great rivalry,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “We are hoping it happens in our favor this year. Greenwich is the No. 2 team in the state and is undefeated and having a tremendous year. For us, this is an opportunity to beat a great, well-coached team that has shown no weaknesses.”
Should Greenwich (9-0) win Thursday and Darien and Naugatuck lose, it could rise up to the top spot in the CIAC Class LL rankings and would get two home playoff games. A loss to Staples could drop the Cardinals to fifth or sixth in the rankings, putting them on the road in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Greenwich’s last unbeaten regular season was the 2004 FCIAC championship team, which ultimately lost to New Britain in the Class LL final that year. Even its recent two state championship teams in 2006 (to Staples) and 2007 (to Naples, Fla.) each had one loss.
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“There’s something that rings about being 10-0, that sounds great if we can do it,” Marinelli said. “Realistically, who would have thought we would be where we are. It’s a credit to what our team is capable of. Now we are going to see if they can finish.”
The Wreckers hold an 8-4 edge over the Cardinals in the Thanksgiving Day Series, but GHS posted a 37-10 win last fall — a triumph that earned it a berth into the Class LL Tournament. In some previous Thanksgiving games between the rivals, Greenwich and Staples competed for the FCIAC titles in 2007, 2011 and 2012.
The Cards’ latest win came when it pulled away from Xavier, 48-20, on Thursday, outscoring the Falcons 35-7 during the second half. Junior running back Tysen Comizio totaled 253 yards on the ground with four touchdowns in the winning effort. Quarterback Gavin Muir, a junior, also threw and ran for a touchdown for Greenwich. Muir has passed for 2,025 yards, while throwing for a team-record 26 touchdowns. Comizio, meanwhile, has amassed 938 yards rushing.
Anchored by senior linebacker Ben van der Merwe, Cole Brockwell (junior) linebacker and linebacker Brandon Adrian, the Wreckers’ defense knows it has plenty to key on against the Cardinals.
“Muir is the guy that makes them go and Comizio is a good back,” Petroccio said. “They are very good up front and they have some good receivers. They are just very good across the board, which makes them hard to defend. If you try to defend the run, they’ll hit you with the pass.
But the strength of our team has been our defense. Hopefully, we can slow the game down a little bit and get them out of rhythm. If you let them go fast, one minute the score is 13-13 like last week against Xavier and the next it’s 27-13. They can score so fast in so many ways.”
In its six wins this season, Staples has posted three shutouts and yielded only 24 points. The Wreckers have also scored more than 40 points in four of their victories.
“Staples is a very physical offense and a physical team in general,” GHS senior linebacker Robert Lanni said. “We look forward to the challenge of playing against them. It’s going to come down to physicality — that’s what this game between our team and Staples usually comes down to. Last week we did a great job of stopping the run and our secondary did a great job as well.”
Senior quarterback Daniel Thompson has passed for 1,170 yards and 10 touchdowns, while added 348 rushing yards for Staples. Senior Harris Levi has gained 657 yards rushing and has totaled 12 touchdowns to lead the Wreckers’ rushing attack.
“They have so many threats to run the ball and when you add that mobile quarterback, it adds one more threat to account for on defense,” Cardinals senior linebacker Finbar Doyle said. “We know they are going to put up a good fight and play good old-fashioned football, so we have to come out ready. We love playing Staples, they are great competitors with a lot of tradition.”
Greenwich’s defense slowed down Xavier’s running game a week ago and has not allowed a team to score more than 21 points so far this season. Their special teams has also played a pivotal role, with senior Tyler Blizzard blocking two punts, resulting in a pair of touchdowns against Xavier.
“We have some size on our offensive line, but their two interior guys are stout and hard to move,” Petroccio said of Greenwich’s defensive line. “(Gramoz) Bici and Blizzard, those guys have had a tremendous year on defense. What stands out most about Greenwich’s defense is their overall speed.”
The Cardinals know they must be primed to contend with the Wreckers’ potent running attack, which can take over a game.
“They are one of our bigger opponents,” Marinelli said. “They run designed quarterback runs a lot, which pose a lot of problems. Because of their size up front they can take advantage of mismatches and they do a good job of getting their skill kids on the perimeter and getting guys in open space. They’ve had 12-14 days to get ready for us and we just had a game last week, so they are going to be ready to go.”