NORWALK — It was the kind of play that could turn a football game around, slicing Staples’ lead more than in half. New Britain blocked a punt, took it in for a score late in the third quarter: A week ago, Staples might’ve given it away right there.
The Wreckers instead went on a drive that ate up eight of the 16-plus minutes remaining, and though it ended poorly, they still held on for a 14-8 win Saturday night at Norwalk’s Testa Field.
“When New Britain blocked the punt, we could’ve put our heads down,” said Staples’ Jake Thaw, who made big plays to get the Wreckers in the end zone twice. “But the defense hunkered down. and we played a really great game defensively for the second week in a row.”
Week 1 for the Wreckers was an emotional 14-13 loss at Stamford, when the Black Knights honored two young men who died in a car crash in August, one a current student, one a former football player.
Staples’ biggest improvement from Week 1, coach Adam Behrends said, was in spirit.
“When (New Britain) blocked a punt, anything bad happened, adversity came around, I didn’t see that same look in some guys’ eyes,” Behrends said. “Everybody had that look like ‘we’re going to get the next one,’ ‘we’re going to get the next one,’ ‘we’re going to be fine.’”
Staples is 1-1, while New Britain fell to 0-2 in a nonconference game set up by the state’s scheduling alliance.
It wasn’t always pretty. New Britain fumbled the ball away on three drives in a row. Staples picked up 10 penalties, including five false starts and a couple of delay-of-game calls. The Wreckers’ net rushing total was minus-9 yards, but what a second-half turnaround from halftime’s minus-30.
Still, it was Behrends’ first win as Staples coach, and he was simply glad for his players.
“What they’ve been through the last few years and the hard work they put in, they deserve this,” Behrends said
Hurricanes coach Tebucky Jones was pleased with his team’s defensive effort. It bent on the Wreckers’ 18-play drive after New Britain got on the board, but the Hurricanes’ Jayden Scott forced a fumble on a first-and-goal play from the New Britain 7.
The offense needed to execute better, he said.
“In the beginning, we were running the ball, getting the ball at the beginning, then kind of stalling,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, but you’ve got to grow up.”
Freshman Cameron Bond ran for 36 yards on 12 carries and also picked up the two-point conversion after Omary Payne (five carries, 43 yards early) returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a touchdown.
The Wreckers struck first in the second quarter on a gorgeous pass play, Jackson Zager to a sliding Thaw at the 1-yard line.
“I thought it was overthrown,” Jones said in admiration.
Henry Beck punched it in on the next play.
“Once Jackson started scrambling, the DB covering me kind of eased off a little bit,” Thaw said. “I just tried to put it in whatever the next gear I had was. Jackson threw a great ball.”
Thaw returned a punt 69 yards to put Staples up 14-0 midway through the third, getting key blocks from Nick Armentano and Ryan Thompson, among others.
That was the first one I actually got to return. Punts have been sporadic so far, even in scrimmages,” Thaw said. “I thought I had a chance to make a play. The blocking was incredible. I hardly got touched.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jake Thaw returned a punt for a touchdown, caught five passes for 78 yards and completed 4 of 8 passes for 73 yards.
TRACK AND FIELD
This was the first of two Staples home games moved to Testa Field to allow construction to finish on the Wreckers’ home turf and the new track surrounding it. Next Saturday’s game against Ridgefield is here as well.
“I think it’s like a couple of days behind from what the original day was, and in construction, any time you can finish within a week of what the original date was, I think you’re pretty much, more or less, on target,” the coach said.
“It would’ve been nice to get on that thing earlier, but with the nice track we’re going to have, the way it’s going to be done, better to let them do that thing right. It’ll be worth the wait.”
“We’re really happy. Coming in with a new coach, we had to kind of get settled and figure it out. … We’ve got a really positive team, and Coach Adam led us.” —Staples’ Jake Thaw