Rankowitz, Kelly and Staples' defense pummel Wilton, 37-6
Everything worked for the Staples football team on Saturday in its 37-6 home victory over Wilton. Staples raised its record to 8-0 and moved closer towards wrapping up an FCIAC and Class LL playoff berths. Wilton dropped to 2-6.
"We were hitting on all cylinders," said Wreckers coach Marce Petroccio. "The offensive line did a great job. This group is always fired up."
Even when Staples faced adversity, it figured out ways to overcome it. Facing a third-and-30 on its first possession of the game normally translates into fourth down. Wrecker senior Matt Kelly (five carries for 102 yards) had other plans as he weaved past Warrior defenders for a 75-yard touchdown run with 9:52 remaining in the first quarter. Senior Santiago Cuartas kicked the extra point to make it 7-0.
"Our line did a great job blocking, especially [senior] Connor Bohling, and I was able to find the holes," said Kelly.
Kelly's touchdown gave the team momentum and set the tone for the game.
"We want to play every game as if it's our last game," said Kelly. "It got the whole team going and we kept on scoring."
In addition to Bohling, senior captain Devin Graber and classmates Ryan Vaughn, Alex Mullen, Dan Kowalski and Adam Rosenbloom opened up holes for the running game. Overall, Staples rushed for 228 yards on 33 carries.
"We knew their defense well because they play a similar defense to us and we had a good scouting report and prepared for all the possible scenarios," said Graber.
On Wilton's first possession, Wrecker senior captain Brendan Rankowitz (two passes broken up) intercepted senior Jackson Wilbur's pass and returned it 25 yards. An unnecessary roughness penalty of the Warriors gave Staples a first down on Wilton's 28.
"It starts with our defensive coordinator, Coach [Lew] Socci," said Rankowitz. "He does a great job of getting us in the right position with the right coverage and I was lucky to make a play on the ball."
Seven plays later, junior Ryan Burke (12 carries for 78 yards, one kickoff return, 38 yards) had a 7-yard touchdown run with 6:16 left. Cuartas' kick made it 14-0.
After a 13-yard Warrior punt, Staples began its next possession on Wilton's 42. Senior backup quarterback Keith Gelman (4-6, 122 yards throwing, eight carries for 37 yards) showed his poise and that he'd be a starter on most teams. Filling in for injured senior captain Brandon Pacilio, Gelman showed the Wreckers didn't miss a beat and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Rankowitz with 2:51 to go. Cuartas' kick made it 21-0.
"Basically, it starts with our offensive line up front," said Gelman. "They give me great time in the pocket and opens up holes for our running backs and allows us to score a lot of points."
Junior Tyler Jacobs set up Staples' next score by recovering a fumble on the Warrior 31. Burke had a 19-yard run from the 30 to set up Cuartas' 25-yard field goal, making it 24-0 with 11:42 left in the half. Jacobs intercepted Wilbur on Wilton's next drive.
A Gelman fumble stopped the Wreckers but Wilton didn't capitalize because Staples' defense was stout. Senior Cody Laszlo (10 tackles), Graber (seven tackles), senior captain Jake Santora (five tackles) and junior Rob Gau (four tackles) didn't allow the Warriors room to run.
"We came in with a great game plan thanks to Coach Socci and everyone played a great game," said Graber.
Laszlo said, "I did what I was coached to do, staying low and pushing back on the center. If it weren't for my coaches, I wouldn't be where I am."
Kelly returned the ensuing punt 18 yards to his 30. On this drive, Staples faced adversity with a second-and-24 from its 26. Gelman hit junior Pat Murray for 20 yards and Kelly scampered 18 yards for a first down. The drive ended with Gelman hitting Rankowitz, who broke a few tackles, with a 41-yard touchdown pass with 3:20 to go. Cuartas' kick made it 31-0.
"Both touchdown passes were on good passes by Keith and we got good protection from the line," said Rankowitz. "The corners weren't all the way up and I was able to get behind them."
Graber forced a fumble that Jacobs recovered and set up the Wreckers' final scoring drive that started on the Warrior 47. Eight plays later, Burke had a 4-yard touchdown run. Cuartas missed the extra point.
Petroccio then went with his backups and Wilton scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"Keith did a great job managing the game, Matt set the tone and Rankowitz had a tremendous game," said Petroccio. "The fact we can score on turnovers will help us down the pike."