NORWALK — With the Staples football team scoring only 27 points while losing two of its first three games, first-year head coach Adam Behrends’ decision to start junior transfer Jackson Zager at quarterback (moving incumbent Jake Thaw to wide receiver) was a trending topic of second-guessing.
Thaw, after all, had helped the Wreckers go 7-3 last season and nearly make the Class LL state playoffs.
The questioning intensified after Staples went pointless in last Saturday’s 7-0 setback against Ridgefield — a game in which Zager and Thaw each took snaps at quarterback.
In Friday night’s road game at McMahon, however, it was the answers that arose.
Displaying his arm strength and accuracy, Zager threw for three touchdowns and also ran for two others as Staples routed Brien McMahon, 35-7, at Jack Casagrande Field. The Wreckers scored 21 unanswered points in the second half.
“Last week we played a good Ridgefield team and we weren’t clicking on offense … a lot of missed assignments,” Zager said. “We sat down over the week and we said ‘look guys, we’ve got to get this right.’ Tonight everyone on offense played great. The offensive line gave me a ton of time back there, and the receivers ran great routes.”
McMahon actually went into halftime with reason to be hopeful. After falling behind 14-0, the Senators put together a 14-play drive that ended in Jermayne Daniel’s one-yard touchdown run with 15.4 seconds left before intermission.
Daniel was the workhorse on the march, carrying the ball six times for 32 yards, including a 17-yard rumble through the middle of the Staples defense. But after gaining 69 yards through the opening two quarters, Daniel injured his hamstring while playing defense early in the third quarter and did not return.
Daniel’s three-dimensional absence — in addition to his feature roles as fullback and defensive tackle he is also McMahon’s punter — was noticeable, particularly when the Senators had the ball. McMahon’s run-centric offense didn’t move the ball nearly as well, allowing the Staples offense to get more possessions.
After starting the second half with good field position following a McMahon squib kick, the Wreckers needed only four plays to score. Thaw caught a pass on the sideline and used several shake-and-bake moves to avoid tackles before being taken down at the McMahon 24. Henry Beck ran for four yards, and then Zager dropped back and uncorked a fastball through the secondary and into the arms of a sliding Thaw in the end zone.
Staples allowed a first down before Sam Milberg’s sack on a third-and-nine play forced a punt. Millberg broke through the line again to block the kick, with Andrew Goldberg recovering at the McMahon 31.
Zager then lofted a long pass that Nate Thompson snagged at the 1-yard line by outjumping two McMahon defenders, setting up Zager’s touchdown run for a 28-7 lead with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
Staples ended the scoring on its first possession of the fourth quarter. Zager completed passes to Thaw and AJ Konstanty before faking a handoff and scampering 12 yards untouched into the end zone.
“The kids came out … they executed … they did what we’ve been asking them to do,” Behrends said. “I’m glad for these seniors, especially, that they can finally see the fruits of a lot of their labors.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jackson Zager, Staples: The junior quarterback threw for three touchdown passes and ran for two more.
“I love it here. Everyone’s a family. I didn’t play my best the first three games but they had my back the whole time. There was a lot of outside noise about it, but my teammates had my back.” — Staples quarterback Jackson Zager.