Since being edged by Staples in the FCIAC championship game last season, the Greenwich High football team has looked forward to the opportunity to play the Wreckers with the title on the line again.
The Cardinals will get another chance on Thanksgiving. Greenwich took care business against Danbury Thursday, sealing a spot in the FCIAC title game with a 54-8 rout of the visiting Hatters on Senior Night.
Greenwich, which is a perfect 8-0, also clinched its first appearance in the CIAC Class LL playoffs since 2007, with the one-sided triumph. The Cardinals will host Staples on Thanksgiving at 10 a.m. Last season, Staples rallied from a 27-17 fourth-quarter deficit to win 31-27.
“That loss to Staples last year was tough to swallow,” GHS senior captain Taylor Olmstead said. “We’re really looking forward to this game, we’ve been preparing all season for it. We’re going to watch film and prepare all week for it. It should be a great battle.”
Said Cardinals senior quarterback and captain Liam O’Neil, who had another impressive game on Thursday: “It should be another exciting game against Staples. I’m looking forward to seeing how we match up with them. By this time, I feel like I know those guys personally.”
Greenwich veteran coach Rich Albonizio, whose Cardinals last won the FCIAC title in 2007, the same year they last won the Class LL title, knows what his squad must do to contend with the Wreckers – a team they matched up well with last Thanksgiving.
“We have to play our best football, we have to play well on both sides of the ball, and our kicking game has to click,” Albonizio said. “Two great teams with most of their players back from last year – it should be a great game.”
As for Thursday’s game against Danbury, the Cardinals made sure they didn’t leave anything to chance. Scoring on their first two possessions, GHS jumped out to a 13-0 lead and cruised from there. Senior captain Alex McMurray (10 carries, 51 yards) scored the Cards’ first two touchdowns on runs of 4 and 11 yards and senior Dan Claroni ran it in from 5 yards out, putting Greenwich ahead midway through the second quarter.
Claroni, one of the team’s defensive leaders, saw some more time on offense Thursday after senior running back Mark Bernstein had to leave the game with a slightly sprained left ankle. Bernstein, who had five carries for 37 yards before going to the sideline, told me on the sideline that he felt Ok and would be ready for next week’s duel vs. Staples.
Austin Longi continued to show his playmaking ability. The talented sophomore returned an intereception and a punt back for a touchdown, while Olmstead took an interception back 97 yards for a score.
Greenwich’s defense was solid throughout, pressuring Danbury quarterback Elijah Duffy (12-for-30, 108 yards), while containing running back Corey Chaffee. Olmstead and Longi had interceptions, while Max Kelly, and David Juarez recovered fumbles for the Cardinals.
Here’s a look at the Cardinals’ statistics: Senior Vincent Ferraro had two receptions for 43 yards, McMurray caught two passes for 22 yards, junior Jose Melo had three receptions for 47 yards and senior captain Joe Kelly caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from O’Neil.
O’Neil, who received great protection from his offensive line headed by Bob Decker and center Vincent Murphy, completed 8-of-12 passes for 160 yards.
“As great as our receivers are catching the ball and gaining yards after the catch, what people don’t see is how well they block,” O’Neil said. “They are very unselfish and do whatever it takes. It more than just about the passing game for them.”
KJ Whitaker and Bubba Harris rotated at quarterback during the second half for the Cardinals, mainly ran the ball with Zak Blekman and Nick Schepis after halftime.
“We’re playing good and we have to continue to play good football from now on,” Albonizio said. “You can’t make mistakes against the teams we are going to face.”