By Eliot Schickler

eschickler@bcnnew.com

The success of the Staples football team's running game starts with its offensive line.

Senior tailback Jon Heil rushed for 366 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries to lead second-seeded Staples to a 48-21 win over seventh-seeded Ridgefield at Wilton in the Class LL quarterfinals because his lineman manhandled Ridgefield's defensive line and linebackers.

"The line did an amazing job opening up the holes," Heil said. "I give props to them and I couldn't have found the holes without them."

Overall, the Wreckers had 442 yards rushing on 44 carries with junior Nick Kelly adding 50 yards on eight carries. Sophomore quarterback Jack Massie was 7-for-13 passing for 105 yards, giving Staples a whopping 547 net yards. Gaining that many yards is way above the norm for a state playoff game and senior captain Jack Gibson (left guard), juniors Kyle Vaughn (right tackle), Chris Speer (center), Will Patrick (right guard), sophomore Nick Ward (left tackle) and senior captain tight end Peter Bonenfant deserve credit for their dominating performances in the trenches.

"The offensive line did a tremendous job. They are a tight knit group, they are very intelligent, take pride in what they do and they don't care who gets the credit," Wreckers head coach Marce Petroccio said. "They work hard towards improving and do whatever it takes to get better. They are like a mini-family. Jack Gibson is the leader of the group and his leadership helps."

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Jesse McCray is the offensive line coach and was the 2002 Connecticut High School Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year recipient. McCray works tirelessly with this group and has played a major role in its success.

"Coach P does an outstanding job with all the schemes [he implemented] and the off-season conditioning [he has them do]," McCray said. "He instilled a lot of pride in the unit and the expectations are high."

Petroccio said, "Jesse's the man."

Against Ridgefield, Gibson and company de-clawed the Tiger defenders and made it easy for Heil to find daylight. His 65-yard touchdown run made it 21-7 and helped turn the tide back in Staples' favor. The linemen's blocks on that play helped sprung him free.

"It was a team effort," Gibson said. "Everyone played well and you can see by the results. We [the line] did a good job, but there's always room for improvement."

McCray said, "They [the line] did an outstanding job and get better each week."

Things looked like that the game would get tighter after the Tigers opened up the second half with a score to cut it to 27-14. Ridgefield then pinned the Wreckers on their 10-yard line with the ensuing kickoff. Three plays later, the line created a seam that Heil exploited for an 80-yard touchdown run, which turned the tide back in Staples' favor and any chance of this game getting tighter was virtually thrown out the window.

"Jon Heil had an amazing game and that's the bottom line," Gibson said. "Nick Kelly had an amazing game as well. They did an amazing job of filling in for [junior] Joey Zelkowitz."

Although the Tigers allowed 547 net yards, the Wreckers felt they have a good defense.

"Ridgefield played a great game," Gibson said. "There were just a few plays where they blitzed people and Jon found an opening."

Bonenfant said, "I don't think Ridgefield had weaknesses. They are a good team and have good players. We played our best football game of the year."

Although the linemen don't receive the glory, they are content with it even though Heil and the other tailbacks believe that none of their success would be possible without the blue collar work of the offensive line.

"It's not about recognition," Gibson said. "We just want to get the [championship] ring. We're there to block for the halfbacks and are happy when we win games."