Running game and defense propel Wrecker gridders to victory
A solid ground game and an impenetrable defense is a recipe for success on the gridiron. With its starting quarterback, senior captain Brandon Pacilio out for the season with an injury, the Staples football team had to subscribe to that recipe more than ever on Friday at Fairfield Ludlowe.
In the end, the defense and running backs were stellar and made life easier for senior backup quarterback Keith Gelman as Staples raised its record to 7-0 with a 38-0 win over Ludlowe (3-4).
"The kids came in fired up and they played hard," said Wreckers coach Marce Petroccio. "We're upset with what happened to Brandon but we're a team and we dedicated the game to him. Keith needed to settle down at the beginning of the game and he will get better [with experience]."
Things didn't begin well for Gelman, who fumbled on the Wreckers' first possession after being hit by senior Tom Lipp. Falcon senior Anthony Wadelton recovered the fumble on the Staples 20-yard line.
However, the Wrecker defense made sure this gaffe wasn't costly. Staples smothered Ludlowe's offense all night, limiting the Falcons to 121 net yards, 51 on the ground on 31 carries. Junior Chris Coyne led the Wreckers on defense with 13 tackles and two sacks.
"Our interior linemen put pressure on Ludlowe and it opened things up for me on the outside to make the tackles," said Coyne.
Coyne's classmate, Rob Gau (nine tackles) along with senior captains Jake Santora (five tackles, one interception) and Devin Graber (four tackles, one sack) were instrumental in shutting down Ludlowe's ground game. Senior Cody Laszlo (five tackles) also helped the Wreckers in the trenches and junior Ryan Burke had a sack off a blitz from the secondary.
"We had great pressure from the defensive line and made [Falcon quarterback Rob] Ferrera throw quickly and the defensive backs broke to the ball," said Santora. "We had confidence in Keith and our offense but we wanted to shut them out."
Senior defensive back Matt Kelly led the secondary in breaking up three passes.
"Everyone did so well on defense and we knew we had to step it up because Brandon was out," said Kelly.
Kelly prevented the Falcons from capitalizing on their first drive of the game when he tackled senior Devin Brault after a seven-yard reception from Ferrara at the 11 on a 4th-and-8 play from the 18.
Staples didn't do much on offense in the first half and didn't score until its third drive of the game, which it began on its 43. After Burke gained 32 yards on two plays, Kelly (six carries for 105 yards, two catches for 34 yards) capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown run with 11:21 remaining in the half. Senior Santiago Cuartas was 5-5 on extra points and his kick made it 7-0.
"The line did a good job blocking," credited Kelly. "Everything was open in the middle and I was able to read the holes."
Graber and classmates Connor Bohling, Ryan Vaughn, Alex Mullen, Dan Kowalski and Adam Rosenbloom provided Gelman (5-13, 53 yards) with ample protection and opened up holes for the running game, 313 yards on 33 carries.
"We knew going into the game that Ludlowe likes to do lots of blitzes and throw different packages at us," said Graber. "During the week, we focused on each one and come game time, it was all about execution."
Protecting Gelman, who showed good leadership and scrambled well, was also paramount for the linemen.
"Coach P told us that our success depended on how much we protected Keith," said Graber. "We had confidence in Keith but we knew in order for him to get acclimated to the varsity level depended on the linemen."
Staples scored its second and final touchdown of the first half on defense when senior captain Brendan Rankowitz intercepted Ferrara's pass and returned it 30 yards for the touchdown with 8:30 to go to make it 14-0.
"We had a pretty good defensive game plan and coverage," said Rankowitz. "I was lucky enough to read the throw and make a play on the ball. It definitely helped us out and gave us confidence."
The Wreckers also received a break when sophomore John Colavito apparently sacked Gelman and forced a fumble that Lipp recovered at his 41, but the referee ruled it an incomplete pass.
Instead of starting their subsequent drive at their 41, the Falcons began it on their 4 after a Staples punt. A 29-yard run by senior Kyle Finnegan ignited Ludlowe and Ferrara's 15-yard pass to junior Nate Ryan gave the Falcons a first down on the Wrecker 29.
Santora ended this threat by intercepting Ferrara and returning it six yards the Wrecker 35 with 1:47 left. Staples led 14-0 at the break.
"We blitzed and [junior Matt] Yeager did a great job of getting a hand on the ball and I attacked it," said Santora.
In the second half, the Wreckers exploded on offense, particularly Burke (14 carries for 180 yards). He scored on two one-play drives in the third quarter with 45-yard and 64-yard touchdown runs. In the fourth quarter, he capped a four-play, 64-yard drive, with a 23-yard touchdown run.
"Everything just worked out," said Burke. "Rankowitz was there for the stock block and the line did a great job blocking. I hit the outside because it was wide open and I took off."
Yeager set up Cuartas' 20-yard field goal with 1:27 remaining in the game after recovering a Falcon punt returner's fumble on Ludlowe's 6.
Rankowitz (two catches for 17 yards) and Coyne (one catch for seven yards) also caught passes from Gelman.