Redemption Rankowitz: Staples stuns Central, 14-10, to win FCIAC championship

Christian Abraham/Staff photographer FCIAC football action between Staples and Central in Trumbull, Conn. on Friday Nov. 20, 2009. Staples defeated Central 14-10.

Christian Abraham/Staff photographer FCIAC football action between Staples and Central in Trumbull, Conn. on Friday Nov. 20, 2009. Staples defeated Central 14-10.

FCIAClogo 3aYou wouldn’t have believed it unless your saw it with your own eyes.

Brendan Rankowitz was wide open. He had the game-winning touchdown pass in his hands with nothing in front of him but the winner’s podium. But the senior dropped the pass thrown by Keith Gelman with over two minutes remaining.

Central pretty much had its dream FCIAC championship wrapped up.

“I was so disappointed with myself, I thought I left the team down with that pass,” Rankowitz said.

Central's #23 Isaiah Flores kneels dejected on the field after Staples defeated them in the final moments of the game, during FCIAC football action in Trumbull, Conn. on Friday Nov. 20, 2009.

Central's #23 Isaiah Flores kneels dejected on the field after Staples defeated them in the final moments of the game, during FCIAC football action in Trumbull, Conn. on Friday Nov. 20, 2009.

Amazingly enough. Staples’ defense — which bent early, but toughened in the second half — got the ball back for Rankowitz and the offense one final time with 1:36 remaining.

After a Central time out, which came while the clock was running, Staples faced a second and 2 from its own 34.

Gelman found Rankowitz in the left flat and, from there, the senior scripted one of the most memorable finishes in FCIAC history not to mention one heckuva tale of perseverance and redemption.

The senior side-stepped one tackle and then turned on the jets down the left sideline, untouched, for an incredible, inconceivable touchdown with 1:05 left. “I just tried to run as fast as I could,” he said.

Just a couple of plays later, Rankowitz added to his FCIAC legend by picking off a desperation heave by Central quarterback Christon Gill to secure the 14-10 victory and Staples’ first FCIAC championship since 2003.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done in my life,” Rankowitz said of his drastic transformation from goat to superhero.

Central, which had a 10-0 halftime lead and dominated Staples in the first half, just couldn’t score against the Wreckers defense in the second half.

Still, the Hilltoppers had this game won.

Instead, the players left heartbroken and crying.

“It’s a brutal way to lose,” Central coach Dave Cadelina said. “It’s something that happens. But it’s not supposed to happen.”

Here’s how the final 2 minutes went down in the FCIAC championship tonight.

Watch it, rub your eyes and then watch it again.

Update: If you saw it once, watch it again. We’ve added postgame interviews and replays.

Despite the overflowing emotional fallout from this battle — one of the top defensive games I’ve ever seen — there must be quick turnaround for both teams.

The Class LL playoff race is as tight as ever and both teams need to win to get in in just six days. There’s still time for redemption for Central if enough goes their way (Cheshire travels to West Haven in the “Swine Flu Bowl,” tonight at 7 in a key game for the Hilltoppers and Wreckers’ state hopes).

Staples, which struggled to score in this one, will have its hands full with Greenwich. The Cardinals, who are all but out of the Class LL playoff race, would absolutely love to take the newly-crowned champions down with them. Staples can’t afford to lose next week, or it’s most likely out.

But for now, the wild emotional swings on both sides are going to take some time to get over, especially on the Central side.

An amazing game. One of the best I’ve seen.

And yes, I owe Marce Petroccio and Jack McFarland a steak dinner. You might want to bring Brandon along too.

He deserves it. You deserve it. You’re the champs, Staples.

Sean Patrick Bowley