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Staples holds off Greenwich for second straight FCIAC title

Updated 10:11 am, Friday, November 23, 2012

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  • Brian Book # 53 of Staples douses his coach Marce Petroccio with Gatorade after Staples won the FCIAC championship 48-30 over Greenwich at Greenwich, Thursday afternoon, Nov. 22, 2012. At right looking on is Zach Speranza # 40 of Staples. Photo: Bob Luckey / Greenwich Time
    Brian Book # 53 of Staples douses his coach Marce Petroccio with Gatorade after Staples won the FCIAC championship 48-30 over Greenwich at Greenwich, Thursday afternoon, Nov. 22, 2012. At right looking on is Zach Speranza # 40 of Staples. Photo: Bob Luckey

 

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GREENWICH -- The mere thought of breaking any type of rushing record never crossed Joey Zelkowitz's mind.

Not once.

Zelkowitz delivered a performance unprecedented in the FCIAC championship game, and Staples, with an offense that seemed to sputter only for a split second, went home on Thanksgiving with another title in hand. Staples' lightning rod out of the backfield shattered the single-game rushing record, piling up 317 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, as the Wreckers defended their conference title with a 48-30 triumph over Greenwich.

Half of those carries came over the first two quarters as Zelkowitz went into the break with 261 yards on the ground, and was well on his way to destroying the mark of 229 set by Greenwich's Steve Long in 2001.

"I had no idea until they told me a few minutes ago," Zelkowitz said of the record, which earned him Most Valuable Player honors and catapulted Staples (9-0) to its seventh FCIAC title.

Greenwich (9-1) suffered its first loss of the year and will open the LL state playoffs as the No. 6 seed at defending champion Xavier (9-1) on Tuesday.

"We made some nice plays, but they made more of them," said Greenwich head coach Rich Albonizio, whose team is now 12-10 all-time in the FCIAC final.

Staples, which also locked up the top seed in LL and will host No. 8 West Haven (8-2) on Tuesday, rolled into the third quarter with a 34-14 lead before swatting away a furious comeback by Greenwich.

"It's awesome," Staples head coach Marce Petroccio said. "I'm just so proud of our kids and what they've done, and they deserve everything they get. ... The sad part about it is the season's going to end soon, but we're going to enjoy the ride while we can."

Greenwich outscored Staples 16-0 in the third quarter and crept to within four points with 1:41 left after the Wreckers' punt team sailed a snap into the end zone for a safety.

Poor special teams play bogged down the Wreckers, who lost fumbles on the opening kickoff and on a punt, and also gave up a 74-yard kick return for a touchdown to Greenwich's Austin Longi.

The Cardinals drove down to the Wreckers' 30-yard line on the possession after the safety, but failed to convert on the fourth-and-15, netting only four yards on a completion to running back Alex McMurray (three touchdown runs).

On Staples' next drive, Massie took an option on fourth-and-1 from Greenwich's 46 all the way to the end zone to make it 41-30 with 6:40 left. The Wreckers capped the scoring with 1:57 left on Zelkowitz's 22-yard touchdown run.

"That was a battle. We battled for four quarters and in the end, we won the war," Petroccio said. "There were some good battles. They got us a couple times and we got them a couple times."

"We just didn't execute that well coming out of the second half," Massie added. "I don't think we were as mentally focused as we were in the first half and it showed. But we got it back together."

Zelkowitz, who was at less than full strength in last year's conference title game (31-27 win over Greenwich), also had a 61-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a 58-yard scoring burst in the second.

"Phenomenal," Petroccio said of Zelkowitz. "He was very upset that last year, he couldn't showcase exactly what he was all about. He came out today and he played possessed. That's a tribute to him, it's a tribute to the offensive line, it's a tribute to receiver stuff--the kid is unbelievable."

Zelkowitz, who came into the day as the team's leading rusher on the year with 636 yards on 51 carries, deflected all the credit from his record-setting performance.

"It's all to the line," he said. "The receivers, the line, everyone was blocking. It was complete team effort on all the runs. It wasn't just me."

With its mammoth line, Staples controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half and racked up 366 yards of offense. The Wreckers, who led the state in scoring offense through eight games, stormed out to an early 14-point lead. James Frusciante's 24-yard touchdown grab capped a 10-play, 80-yard trip and put Staples up 7-0 just five minutes in. After forcing a three-and-out on Greenwich's next possession, the Wreckers traveled 74 yards in just four plays and went up 14-0 on Patrick Lesch's 12-yard burst into the end zone.

Greenwich quarterback Liam O'Neil threw two interceptions in the game, one of which was returned seven yards for a touchdown by linebacker Lance Lonergan. The pick-six, which came just moments after Staples was stopped from the 1 on fourth-and-goal, put the Wreckers up 34-14 with 30 seconds left before halftime.

"We were watching film all week and that's one of those plays that we look and try to make a play," Lonergan said. "We just executed it."

"Throwing the pick was big. He underthrew the ball," Albonizio said. "That's a big play. You've got to make those plays. They made them and we didn't."

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

STAPLES 48, GREENWICH 30

STAPLES 20 14 0 14--48

GREENWICH 7 7 16 0--30

S--James Frusciante 24 pass from Jack Massie (Mike Gifford kick)

S--Patrick Lesch 12 run (Gifford kick)

G--Austin Longi 74 kick return (Jesse Adelberg)

S--Joey Zelkowitz 61 run (Kick failed)

G--Alex McMurray 6 run (Adelberg kick)

S--Zelkowitz 58 run (Gifford kick)

S--Lance Lonergan 7 interception return (Gifford kick)

G--McMurray 1 run (Adelberg)

G--McMurray 4 run (Adelberg)

G--Safety on snap into end zone

S--Massie 46 run (Gifford kick)

S--Zelkowitz 22 run (Gifford kick)

Records: Staples 9-0; Greenwich 8-1.

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