WESTPORT – Friday night the Staples High football team steps back into a role they aren’t placed in too often.
The Wreckers will be the underdogs as they host the No. 2 ranked team in the state, New Canaan at 7 p.m. at Staples Stadium.
It’s an FCIAC matchup pitting the undefeated Rams (6-0, 4-0) against a young Staples team (5-1, 5-0) that is still developing. Few around the state are giving the Wreckers a chance.
Funny, because the Wreckers haven’t lost an FCIAC game since way back in 2010 — a 15-13 thriller vs. Trumbull at Staples on the final week of the FCIAC regular season, senior quarterback Jack Massie’s freshman year.
But Staples is just fine flying under the radar. They believe Friday they can make a statement of their own.
“I clearly disagree,” senior back Patrick Lesch said of not being able to win. “I think we got a great chance. But we like coming in as the underdog, we have a lot to prove.”
For Lesch, it will be the first “big” game he’s starting in this fall. He missed the Wreckers’ first game of the season against then No. 1 Xavier (a 30-22 loss). He was out with a hip injury but has returned nicely into his role as the team’s top running back (620 yards, nine TDs).
“My hip has been great and I’m back right where I want to be,” Lesch said. “It was really a bummer to miss the first game and watch all the guys out there giving everything they had out on the field. I wish I could have been out there with them. But I’m looking forward to having a big game to play in.”
Friday’s game will arguable be Staples biggest of the season to date. They face the task of stopping a New Canaan squad that is loaded in every area. The Rams are putting up 50 points a game and are led by senior quarterback Nick Cascione, who has thrown for 1,101 yards, 18 touchdowns and one interception.
Add in wide receiver Cole Turpin (302 yards), Alex LaPolice, running back Frank Cognetta (6.63 yards per carry) and a do-it-all linebacker in Cole Harris, the Rams are a tough opponent to stop — or keep from stopping.
The challenge for the Wreckers will be to play a consistent, full game, something that has been an issue for them this season.
“They’re a very good team,” Lesch said. “So I think we’re going to need to come out and not make many errors, hold onto the ball, makes some stops on defense and do all the little things right. And have a clean game.”
The biggest question mark for Staples has been its defense. Last Friday against Danbury, the Hatters quarterback Anferny Ith sliced and diced his way through the Wreckers defense throwing for nearly 400 yards. The Wreckers found themselves down at the half and had to rally to collect the win.
Senior captain Will Johnson, who plays both ways for the Wreckers, said that game was a wakeup call for the team. He said the message from head coach Marce Petroccio was the team has to play a complete game to stay with New Canaan.
“I think we’re going to have to be really disciplined,” Johnson said. “Do everything the coaches tell us to do…make sure we’re 100 percent focused at all times.”
While Staples has a large order to fill Friday, they do bring in a versatile and electric offense. The Wreckers are paced by three-year starting quarterback Jack Massie who has the ability to throw or run at any given moment. Massie has five rushing scores this fall, and nine through the air.
“That’s something they (New Canaan) haven’t really seen yet,” Petroccio said. “They haven’t seen a true option.”
Added Lesch: “We’re pretty unique in that aspect we run a lot of option plays and I think that will bode well for us in them having a few different things to stop.”
Running back Jack Greenwald, receiver Jake Melnick, Teddy Coogan and Johnson all highlight the offensive attack.
While Staples will the dark horse Friday, the players know how big of a game this is and what it means, as it will affect what is becoming a tight FCIAC title race.
The last time the two programs squared off was in September of 2008, a 21-20 victory by New Canaan at Staples, the end of a stretch of games that saw some epic encounters.
In 2007, the Wreckers defeated New Canaan 14-7 in overtime at Dunning Field to reach the FCIAC championship game. The year before that, New Canaan nipped Staples 14-13 in Westport. That win propelled the Rams to their first of four state straight state championships and avenged a 28-24 last-second Staples victory in 2005, the year of Staples’ last state title.
“We all know the implications this game has for us,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be prepared. It is more or less the biggest game of the season. I’m out of my mind excited to play.”
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