By Dave Ruden
WESTPORT — Staples’ Jack Greenwald exploded as if propelled out of a cannon, his 48-yard touchdown run certainly taking much longer than the two or three seconds it seemed.
The score, two plays after New Canaan’s Nick Cascione had put his team ahead, 14-0, cut the Wreckers’ deficit in half. It was the first first-half points the vaunted Rams defense had allowed all season.
There was hope. But hope proved fleeting for Staples on Friday night, as it had the previous six weeks for teams hoping to derail New Canaan, which is making a compelling argument to stake a claim for being the best team in Connecticut.
In the teams’ first meeting since 2008, the Rams (7-0) scored on four of their first five possessions and rolled to a convincing 43-7 victory over the Wreckers, ending their 25-game conference winning streak.
“The two-time defending FCIAC champions, there is nothing better than that,” said the Rams’ Zach Allen, who sacked Staples quarterback Jack Massie three times in the first half, including consecutive plays in the second quarter to thwart a drive. “This is exactly what we wanted to do, make a statement, and I feel like we did. You have to give them a lot of credit. Massie is a hell of an athlete, making plays left and right. I guess it worked for us. It clicked.”
It has been clicking since opening day. There was a lot of posturing Friday night. New Canaan, which is becoming the Oregon, sartorial-wise, of the FCIAC, showed up in new uniforms, fatigue-inspired. Staples wore its regular uniforms during pregame warmups, then, as had been rumored for several days, changed and took the field wearing black tops. Given the way the night played out, it was an unfortunate choice of shades.
The posturing extended beyond the color wars. The New Canaan players said they thought Staples stressed their back to back titles a little too fervently, as well as the difficulty it takes containing their option offense.
“Any time you call us out,” Rams linebacker Cole Harris said, “you’re going to get our attention.”
Harris was part of the riled up group on the sideline after Greenwald’s score.
“It was a big wakeup call,” he said. “It was a game-on type of mentality.”
Staples (5-2) was held to 49 first-half yards — that is plus-one when Greenwald’s score is accounted for. Marce Petroccio, the Wreckers’ coach, pleaded with his offensive line to better protect Massie, but it is a daunting task.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said after the game he has never had a better tandem at linebacker than Harris and Michael Root. Up front you have the manic Connor Buck and Allen, the gentle giant.
The seven other starters? Pretty good, too.
It says something that the first-half touchdown they conceded was treated like a case of crisis management for the Rams, given the way they have steamrolled through the season so far.
“We got back at it,” Allen said. “That’s going to happen. There are going to be mental mistakes, but you have to bounce back and we did tonight.”
We have not yet even discussed the aspect of the game that should prove most disheartening for New Canaan’s future opponents: 352 rushing yards. Quarterback Nick Cascione, who had a rare off night with his accuracy, accounted for 148 of them and a pair of scores. Frank Cognetta added 130 yards and two touchdowns.
We can finally — finally — start the hype machine for the Rams’ home game Friday night against St. Joseph, the FCIAC regular season game of the year, with the winner virtually assured of a spot in the conference final. Barring a seismic upset by Trinity Catholic on Saturday, the Cadets, who were obvious spectators in the stands behind the Staples bench, will also be sporting a 7-0 mark.
“They’re a great team; we are going to have our hands full,” Marinelli said. “So far we’ve been very fortunate to be where we are. We’ll be undefeated, they’ll be undefeated. How great is that?”
How great, indeed.
When asked what it would take to beat the Rams, Harris smiled and said, “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”
If the Rams maintain their current level, we may never know.