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Darien football looks to slow down explosive Staples offense

Updated 9:41 pm, Thursday, October 25, 2012

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  • Staples' Joey Zelkowitz carries the ball during Friday's game at Staples High School in Westport on September 14, 2012. Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg
    Staples' Joey Zelkowitz carries the ball during Friday's game at Staples High School in Westport on September 14, 2012. Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg

 

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Just 86 seconds had ticked off the clock last Friday and Staples running back Joey Zelkowitz was polishing off a 24-yard touchdown burst with nary a Trumbull defender in reach.

The Wreckers had run just one play from scrimmage but were up 14-0, and were well on their way to yet another offensive onslaught. This time, it was a 57-14 rout in which they piled up 531 total yards and topped 49 points for the fifth time in five weeks.

Such video game-like numbers have been assembled from a wealth of options, making Staples' offense a nightmare to game plan for for opposing coaches. In the team's 5-0 start, nine different players have scored an offensive touchdown.

This week, the challenge to stop--or at least, slow down--Staples' offense will be left to Darien's sixth-year head coach, Rob Trifone. The Blue Wave (4-2) will host Staples on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

"They bring in backups who would start for everyone else in the league," Trifone said. "Some of their backups, to be honest with you, almost seem faster than their starters. All three running backs--when they go to a full house--they're all fast, their two receivers are fast and their quarterback's fast."

Staples has put that speed on display and has gashed defenses on the ground, piling up 1,696 rushing yards (11.08 yards per carry) and 28 touchdowns. Zelkowitz leads the team with 369 rushing yards on 32 carries, while Patrick Lesch, Nick Kelly, Zack Speranza and even quarterback Jack Massie have lent a hand in the ground game.

Staples has also moved the ball through the air when necessary as Massie has connected with wide receiver James Frusciante a team-high 20 times for 368 yards and five touchdowns.

"I can't remember facing a team in my career with as much team speed as they have," Trifone said.

Staples has routinely put games away before halftime--having led Danbury 30-6 and Trumbull 43-7 at half the last two weeks--but head coach Marce Petroccio knows that the Wreckers likely won't be able to coast in the fourth quarter every week.

After defeating teams with a combined record of 11-18 this season, the Wreckers will face a Darien squad that's potent on both sides of the ball. The Blue Wave has scored over 35 points a game, has a reliable quarterback in Henry Baldwin, and is well equipped at the skill positions with running backs Peter Gesualdi and Christian Bognar.

The 5-foot-7, 165-pound Bognar rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in a 34-7 win over Wilton last Friday. For the season, he's carried the ball a team-high 99 times for 759 yards and seven touchdowns.

"They're a little bigger and thicker on both sides of the ball than they've been in the past," Petroccio said. "The fullback, Bognar, he's one heck of a football player. They have the ability to feed him and he gets some tough yards. He's hard to bring down. ¦ We're going to be challenged in that way."

Baldwin has passed for 14 touchdowns this season, while Nick Lombardo leads the team in receiving with 14 receptions for 422 yards and six scores. The Blue Wave was aided last week with the addition of Gesualdi, who returned from injury and scored a touchdown.

"They're a great team," Frusciante added. "They returned everyone, just like we did. We know they're a dangerous team."

This season, Petroccio has often spent the second half playing damage control while adhering to the state's 50-point rule, and has afforded his starters plenty of rest. If the Wreckers need to turn it on late against Darien, he's confident his players will be ready.

"For us, that's great. We get to rest kids," said Petroccio, alluding to his team's fast starts this year. "Some people get concerned that, `Well, your kids haven't gone four quarters.' But we also haven't taken an incredible amount of hits yet either. It's a catch-22 but I think we'll be fine. We're in great shape."

While Staples is looking to live up to its No. 2 ranking in the state, Darien comes into play with almost no room for error in the postseason chase. Trifone, however, downplayed the significance of the potential win-or-else scenario for his team.

"Whoever plays Staples, it's the biggest test that they'll face during the year. We're not looking at it that way," Trifone said. "We've got plenty of big games down the line. We play undefeated Trinity (Catholic) the week after and we still have the Turkey Bowl (against New Canaan), so our kids are not looking at this game like the save all, end all.

"They're just looking at it as a very big challenge--an opportunity to play the best team in the state and see what you can do."

dbonjour@scni.com; 203-255-4561 ext. 114; twitter.com/DougBonjour

Staples (5-0) vs. Darien (4-2)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Darien High School

Staples at a Glance

Players to watch: Jr. QB Jack Massie (576 passing yards, 5 TD, 2 INT, 6 rushing TD), Sr. WR/DB James Frusciante (20 receptions, 368 yards, 7 TD), Sr. RB/DB Joey Zelkowitz (369 rushing yards, 6 TD), Jr. RB/DB Patrick Lesch (316 rushing yards, 5 TD, 1 TD), Sr. DE Pieter Hoets (39 tackles, 5.5 sacks).

What it means: The No. 2-ranked team in the state looks to build on its perfect start in what's likely its toughest test before Thanksgiving.

Darien at a Glance

Players to watch: Sr. QB Henry Baldwin (1,095 passing yards, 14 TD, 8 INT), Sr. RB/MLB Christian Bognar (759 rushing yards, 7 TD), Sr. RB/DB Peter Gesualdi (32 rushing yards, 53 receiving yards, 1 TD), Jr. WR/S Nick Lombardo (14 receptions, 422 yards, 6 TD), RB/WR/CB Ian Vanderhorn (228 rushing yards, 169 receiving yards, 6 TD, 42 tackles).

What it means: The Blue Wave likely cannot afford another loss if it hopes to reach the Class L state playoffs.

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