WESTPORT — The Staples High School football team was in no need of extra motivation when practice started this week for Friday night’s game with Stamford. The Black Knights had made the trip to Westport a year ago and came away with a 37-34 victory. Then there was the purest form of incentive: the Wreckers were undefeated and looking to again establish themselves as players at both the conference and state levels.
No extra push was necessary, though the Staples players said following their impressive 35-0 win in the rematch that it came in the form of backchannel trash talking on social media that has become commonplace in this new era of easy access.
“We were upset with what happened last year and there were some things going on during the week between some kids,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio. “We were upset with the way we played last year and we wanted to rectify the situation, and I would say we did. Our kids really took it to heart. I’m proud of the way the kids played tonight.”
Stamford (3-2) has been one of the surprise teams in the early going, but it was outmatched on this night. Other than a 43-yard run by Tyrel Diaz, the Black Knights were unable to get their ground game untracked, and their best parts make it more difficult to play from too far behind, especially against a Staples defense that posted its second straight shutout and third in four games.
“We’ve had injuries to key players so it is very difficult to get a read on us,” Petroccio said. “But one thing I do have a read on is we have a good defense.”
Injuries have hampered the Wreckers, and Friday night presented potentially the most serious. With top running back Ethan Burger sidelined for a second straight game, quarterback Andrew Speed sustained a concussion on a keeper early in the third quarter. Staples has great depth at running back, but it was unfortunate irony that Speed would get hurt on a night he demonstrated a part of his game that has gone underappreciated: sharpness with short passes on play-action. Speed had completed 6 of 7 passes for 105 yards in the first half, and scored the second touchdown for a 14-0 lead at the break.
Daniel Thompson, a sophomore who Petroccio said has received few reps in practice, came in and on his first pass hit Ryan Fitton for 30 yards to set up Jon Maragos’ 1-yard touchdown run. Thompson connected with Fitton twice on the next possession, the second time having some good fortune as a deflected pass ended up in his receiver’s hands for a 15-yard score that made it 28-0.
“This was a great team win,” said Connor Adrian, one of the keys in a sturdy stable of running backs. “The whole season has been next man up.”
Jackson Ward, the leader of Staples’ offensive and defensive lines, could find just one fault with his team as it reached at halftime the midpoint of this nine-game regular season.
“We start slow, that’s our only problem right now,” Ward said. “We’ve got to pick it up. It took us a while to put points on the board. Once we get rolling we’re pretty good. This was a big payback game. They were out here last year dancing on our field and we had a year to think about it.”
It was interesting that Petroccio noted the Wreckers, despite their record, remain a mystery team.
“We’re 5-0 and nobody knows anything about us, but we’re fine with that,” Petroccio said.
More accurately, no one can tell yet if the Wreckers belong on the same pedestal with Darien and New Canaan, which is really the lone unsolved puzzle in the FCIAC playoff picture. That will be determined in three weeks, assuming they can get by both Ridgefield and St. Joseph to set up a showdown with the Blue Wave for the division title.
“Eventually we will play Darien,” Adrian said. “We are hoping it is going to end up being a big game.”