WESTPORT — Jake Thaw was slithering around the backfield, dodging St. Joseph defenders looking to make contact like video game creatures, until “Game Over” flashes on the screen.
Thaw, the elusive quarterback for a Staples team looking for its biggest win in years, kept extending a play, looking for a receiver to get open.
Thaw suddenly lasered in on Dylan Ward downfield. Thaw threw a long rainbow and Ward backpedaled, ready to make the catch. At the last minute, out of nowhere, came Jack Wallace, listed as the backup quarterback on St. Joseph’s roster. Wallace’s perfectly timed hit prevented a long completion, and two plays later it was game over.
St. Joseph 17, Staples 14.
“The kid can play,” said St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia of Wallace, a sophomore who saw considerable time last year at cornerback. “That was huge. I didn’t see the break. He was scrambling around. That was a big one.”
Big indeed. That play, with all the moving parts, encapsulated what had happened over the previous 46 minutes. Thaw showing athleticism. The Wreckers ending up oh, so close. And the Cadets making the critical play and earning the win.
“Hard-nosed football, that’s the kind of game we like to play,” said Phil Pasmeg, the Cadets’ top receiver and captain, who returned to action after missing six games with a broken collarbone.”
The Cadets (7-1), in their biggest contest since a week three loss to Darien, overcame giving up a touchdown on the Wreckers’ first possession. They rebounded from allowing Thaw’s 42-yard completion to Ward that led to the quarterback’s 3-yard run that brought Staples to within 17-14 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
“The first drive it was getting used to the speed that they had and then the big pass play, but the kids gave great effort,” Della Vecchia said. “The front three were great. They’re fighting for their playoff lives and it was going to be a huge game, and we hadn’t played in a big one in a while. An emotional game. Our kids played with a lot of passion and a lot of heart and I thought that carried us through tonight.”
Thaw ran for 36 yards on Staples’ first play and then hit Cam Lynch for a 19-yard score.
In between the Wreckers’ next score, St. Joseph quarterback David Summers threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Pasmeg, Luke Kirby kicked a 35-yard field goal and Jaden Shirden, who carried the offensive load, made it 17-7 on a 17-yard run with 5:02 left in the third quarter.
“He’s a phenomenal runner,” Della Vecchia said of Shirden. “He’s not a big kid but he plays big. He made some really big runs for us and against some big dudes up front.”
The Wreckers fell to 6-2. Their losses have come to a pair of defending state champions that a little over a month from now could repeat.
“I’m proud of them,” said Phil Treglia, the Wreckers’ first year coach. “It was a bare-knuckle fight. St Joe’s is a great team. We showed the state of Connecticut what type of team that we are. We’ll be back. We gave a great effort. They just came out on top.”
The Wreckers are almost there. Penalties continue to be a plague. Stunningly, they were called for a block in the back on the second-half kickoff, delay of game and a false start before evening running a play. That caused them to lose a field position battle that led to Shirden’s winning score.
“They’re a great team,” Pasmeg said. “We knew what they were doing but they’re really physical, they’re really big and they don’t give up.”
While the Cadets are headed back to the state playoffs, Staples must wait and hope the Thanskgiving game against Greenwich will provide one final chance for that big win that could open the door to the postseason.
“Football is a game of inches,” Treglia said. “Today they won those inches.”