Wreckers will face Newtown in gridiron semis
Stopping the Staples football team is a daunting task for most teams.
Sixth-seeded Newtown will attempt this unenviable endeavor tomorrow when it faces second-seeded Staples in the Class LL semifinals at Bunnell High School in Stratford.
Newtown enters the game at 9-2 after coming off of a 36-22 win at third-seeded Hall in the quarterfinals and will face the 10-0 Wreckers who won the FCIAC title Nov. 24 with a come-from-behind win over Greenwich and followed up with arguably their best performance of the year when they shredded seventh-seeded Ridgefield, 48-21 in the quarterfinals.
Staples shredded Ridgefield's defense for 547 total net yards, 442 on the ground and 366 from senior tailback Jon Heil. Although the Wreckers are favored to beat the Newtown Nighthawks and advance to the Class LL finals, coach Marce Petroccio isn't taking his opponent for granted.
"We're excited with the fact we can move the ball like we did against Ridgefield and we need to use all of our weapons to beat Newtown because they are a great team," Petroccio said. "They are very athletic and very aggressive on defense. They have a 1,500-yard plus rusher and a talented receiver. It was a dream game [against Ridgefield] and I hope we keep it going against Newtown."
Petroccio was referring to Nighthawk senior tailback Louis Fenaroli, who has rushed for 1,758 yards and 24 touchdowns on 263 carries. Newtown junior wide receiver Dan Hebert is also dangerous as his 35 catches for 671 yards and five touchdowns would indicate. Hebert also ambushed opponents for 408 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 42 carries.
"Staples is obviously a great team and coached by a great group of guys who are fundamentally sound, and I'm excited to be on the same field as them," Nighthawks coach Steve George said. "They are technically sound on defense and I hope our offensive line can create holes for Louis to run through, and we can move the ball."
Traditionally, Staples has been a defensive force under Petroccio and this year is no exception.
Countering for the Wreckers on defense are senior captain linebacker Peter Bonenfant and classmate Robbie Wolf. Complementing them are the defensive linemen, starting with junior sack leader Pieter Hoets. Senior captain Bo Gibson, classmates Mikell Washington and Alec Kaplan and junior Jared Levi will also help Hoets from the defensive line.
"We have to bring our `A' game and win the war in the trenches," Petroccio said. "If we can, we'll be successful, and if we can't, Fenaroli will take advantage."
Bo Gibson said, "We have to tackle low and not be heroes. We have to stay in our gaps."
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On offense, the Wreckers are a run first type of team and are led by their three tailbacks, junior Joey Zelkowitz, Heil and Kelly. All three are lethal and run behind a strong offensive line, which is anchored by senior captain Jack Gibson.
When Staples passes, sophomore quarterback Jack Massie, who has a strong arm, leads the charge. Massie makes good reads and his favorite receiver is Frusciante.
"The battle of their offensive line versus our defensive line will be the battle of the night," George said. "Their offensive line moves people off the ball and their running backs are able to find creases."
Leading the defensive charge in the trenches for Newtown are seniors Mike Lord, Jamie Horoszko and Hunter Bassett along with senior linebacker Cory Fisher.
"Newtown is a great team," Jack Gibson said. "They have an explosive team with Louis Fenaroli. It will be a great game."
Bonenfant said, "We know they have a big running back, but our defense has stepped it up, like it did against Ridgefield."
Bo Gibson said, "I know they have a good back and I'm impressed overall with their team. It's always tough on a short work week an we have to focus on how to prepare for it."
One thing working in the Wreckers' favor is tradition. Staples has made the playoffs 10 out of the last 11 years and won state titles in 2002, 2003 and 2005. Newtown made states this year for the first time since 2008 and last won a state title in 1992.
The Wreckers also have resiliency on their side. They lost their leading rusher Zelkowitz and their leading tackler, junior Kevin Kearney, to injuries, Nov. 5, but haven't missed a beat. Zelkowitz returned Nov. 24 against Greenwich but didn't play against Ridgefield.
"It shows the depth we have and anyone can step up and fill the role," Bonenfant said.
Prediction: The Nighthawks have many weapons but Staples has a larger arsenal and will win, 42-24.