Lacking the collection of playmakers from previous seasons, Staples High couldn't muster the firepower to topple the state's top-ranked team on the season's first night. But the Wreckers certainly weren't second-guessing their abilities afterward.
With just one timeout and the clock running out at Palmer Field, Staples fell 60 yards short of registering a stunning result as three-time defending state champion Xavier held on to defeat the Wreckers 30-22 on Wednesday in Middletown.
Senior tailback Andrew Meoli's 5-yard touchdown run -- his third score of the night -- put Xavier up 30-14 with 10:47 remaining. It ended up being too much for the Wreckers to overcome in the first FCIAC-SCC Challenge, despite their finest effort.
"We've got to clean up some things on both sides of the ball and get our kicking game squared away," Staples head coach Marce Petroccio said. "I think we can be pretty good right now."
Staples, which returned just four starters from back-to-back FCIAC championships, regrouped after a rough start from its punting game. Backed up inside its own 10 on the opening drive, Staples sailed the snap on its first punt high, allowing the Falcons to recover at the 12-yard line. The Falcons responded immediately with an 8-yard quarterback keeper from Joseph Carbone to make it 7-0 less than four minutes in.
The Wreckers also gift-wrapped Xavier a safety in the third quarter when a snap on a punt sailed out of the back of the end zone, giving the Falcons a 23-7 lead.
Despite winning, Xavier head coach Sean Marinan called his team's effort "concerning." The Falcons never trailed, but were plagued with penalties, particularly in the second half. They had a kick return touchdown and another long run down to the 1-yard line called back because of holding penalties.
"We got tired," Marinan said. "I know it's hot and I'm going a little overboard. But you've got to step up and play."
Staples, which entered unranked, drove to its own 40 with one timeout and less than a minute remaining. But quarterback Jack Massie's 4th-and-10 pass fell incomplete to squash the final drive.
"We made some mistakes in the kicking game today, and that just killed us," Petroccio said. "But these kids battled for four quarters. I don't think anyone here expected what they got tonight."
Staples trailed 21-7 at halftime, but Massie -- a third-year starter -- developed a rhythm with his receivers. He engineered two long scoring drives in the second half -- the first a seven-play, 72-yard trip resulting in Jack Greenwald's 5-yard touchdown run to cut it to 23-14 in the third.
Massie's 9-yard scoring run with 5:17 remaining capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive and brought the Wreckers to within 30-22.
"Jack Massie, the kid's a warrior," Petroccio said. "That kid was absolutely incredible."
Held to a measly 13 yards on 17 carries in the first half, Staples relied on Massie through the air for much of the second half. After completing 10 of 18 attempts for 80 yards and a score through two quarters, Massie hit on nine of his 18 passes in the second half. Senior wideout Will Johnson was particularly effective, hauling in five passes for 63 yards after halftime.
"We've been working hard over the offseason, so our chemistry is there," Johnson said. "We had great protection up front, so Massie was able to give me some great passes."
Staples trailed 14-0 before Massie connected with tight end Bryan Porter on a 5-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-5 just 4:15 before halftime. Johnson noted that the touchdown helped calm the Wreckers down after the inconsistent start.
"It was huge," he said.
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Xavier 30, Staples 22
STAPLES 0 7 7 8 -- 22
XAVIER 7 14 2 7--30
X--Joseph Carbone 8 run (Andrew Verre kick)
X--Andrew Meoli 12 run (Verre kick)
S--Bryan Porter 5 pass Jack Massie (Michael Gifford kick)
X--Meoli 10 run (Verre kick)
S--Jack Greenwald 5 run (Gifford kick)
X--Meoli 5 run (Verre kick)
S--Massie 9 run (Porter pass Massie)
Records: Staples 0-1; Xavier 1-0.