By NED X. GRIFFEN
Marce Petroccio, the affable coach of Staples of Westport, reacted with disbelief when told how many yards of offense his team had during Saturday's game at Darien.
Petroccio should be used to his team's shock-and-awe offense by now. They have the state's highest scoring average, and Saturday they gained 723 yards in a 63-28 mauling of Darien.
"In my 34 years, this is the best high school football team I've ever seen," Blue Wave coach Rob Trifone told the Stamford Advocate. "This team is bigger and faster collectively than anyone I've ever played."
Staples (6-0), ranked third in The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll, figured to be among the state's best teams. It started few seniors last season, yet still won the uber-competitive Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference. Its only loss was to two-time Class LL champion Xavier of Middletown in the state final.
The Wreckers may have been expected to excel, but not like this.
"We're fortunate that we've got a lot of different ways to score," Petroccio said. "We've got tremendous skill kids and the offensive line is one of the best lines I've had a chance to coach.
"I'm a lucky guy. That's all I can say."
Staples has scored the third-most points in the state (324) despite playing one fewer game than most teams.
The Wreckers have averaged a state-best 54 points. Their final two touchdowns Saturday were scored by their JV.
"It definitely starts with the offensive line," senior co-captain Nick Kelly said. "They're a fantastic unit. it all starts with them, so we just feed off of them."
Staples' offensive line is king-sized. The starting five are center Will Patrick (6-foot-2, 280 pounds), guards Will Patrick (6-2, 280) and Burim Trdevaj (5-10, 250) and tackles Kyle Vaughn (6-4, 265) and Nick Ward (6-1, 255).
The Wreckers' offensive line is so big and skilled that average players could run for five yards per carry. It just so happens that they have players who are both talented and skilled.
"We've had (former tailback Jimmy Hughes)," Petroccio said. "We've had so many great players here, but I don't think we've ever had a collection of offensive weapons like this. It makes it fun coaching the offense, that's for sure. There's a lot of different ways to go."
Joey Zelkowitz and Kelly combine to give Staples a devastating 1-2 punch at running back. Zelkowitz ran 10 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the Darien win. He also, while in a full sprint, hauled in a deep pass from quarterback Jack Massie and scored an 83-yard touchdown.
Kelly ran 12 times for 146 yards and scored.
Massie has made a big difference in the offense. He's more comfortable and polished in his second season and allows the Wreckers to throw more out of their spread triple-option offense.
"(Darien) came with eight in the box," Petroccio said, "and we just can't allow people to stack the box against the run all the time and not take advantage of it. That's what we did today. We have the ability to throw more and be more balanced."
Massie completed 14 of 18 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns against Darien. He also scored on a 72-yard run.
"He's done a phenomenal job," Petroccio said. "He can get us into any play we want. He calls the defense. He calls everything that we have. He's a student of the game. … I think a lot of (Massie's evolution) has to do with (quarterback coach /secondary coach/passing game coordinator) coach Mac DeVito."
Fitch fans should be very familiar with DeVito. The former Staples standout quarterback ran for a game-winning 61-yard touchdown against the Falcons with 1 minute, 57 seconds left in the team's 1997 Class L semifinal. The Wreckers won 24-18.
"There's a Westport legend that comes in (on the staff)," Petroccio said. "The kid has pride in our school and our program and what we do, and that pride is now passed on to Jack."
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Xavier of Middletown's comeback Friday has been mentioned a few times at this here blog, but its tale is still worth telling.
The Falcons rallied from a 28-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Hillhouse of New Haven 50-49. Their 28 point comeback ties the state record shared by both Bacon Academy and St. Joseph of Trumbull.
"We have all of these big kids, these 300-pound linemen and they weren't hitting anybody," Xavier coach Sean Marinan told Sean Patrick Bowley of the Connecticut Post. "I was screaming at them: Go out there and HIT somebody."
Hillhouse scored less than a minute into the second half to take a 49-21 lead.
The Falcons immediately sprung to life. DeAngelo Berry scored on a 1-yard run with with 51 seconds left to cut the Academics' lead to one point.
Xavier went for two and Berry ran in the conversion for the go-ahead points. He ran 17 times for 90 yards and three touchdowns.
Bowley wrote that, after the game, Marinan told his team, "I'm glad you guys finally got angry. I can't tell you how proud I am."
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The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches poll with record and first-place votes in parentheses: 1. Hand of Madison (7-0, 9); 2. Ansonia (7-0, 2); 3. Staples (2); 4. Windsor (6-0); 5. Masuk-Monroe (7-0); 6. Xavier-Middletown (6-1); 7. Greenwich (6-0); 8. West Haven (6-1); 9. Southington (7-0); 10. Berlin (7-0).
Ned Freeman's cold, calculating computer rankings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. Hand; 2. Ansonia; 3. Xavier; 4. Staples; 5. West Haven; 6. Greenwich; 7. Masuk; 8. Hillhouse-New Haven (5-2); 9. Windsor; and, 10. Southington. Berlin is ranked 32nd.
Vaya con dios. ...
The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll
First-place votes in parentheses, record through Saturday, points tabulated on a 30-28-26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10-9-8-7 basis, and last week's ranking:
1. Hand-Madison (9) 7-0 380 1
KNOW THIS: The Tigers offense had five turnovers against North Haven Friday, but the defense held fast in a 24-7 win. NEXT: at Notre Dame-West Haven, Friday, 7 p.m.
2. Ansonia (2) 7-0 356 2
KNOW THIS: We know that the Chargers are quite good. Now we get to find out about fellow unbeaten Wolcott with the NVL Brass title on the line. NEXT: vs. Wolcott, Friday, 7 p.m.
3. Staples-Westport (2) 6-0 348 3
KNOW THIS: The Wreckers picked up some momentum in the poll this week. These things happen when you gain 723 yards, as they did in Saturday's 63-28 win at Darien. NEXT: at Fairfield Warde, Friday, 7 p.m.
4. Windsor 6-0 292 4
KNOW THIS: The Warriors beat their top two challengers — Middletown and Farmington — in successive weeks. NEXT: at Maloney, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
5. Masuk-Monroe 7-0 243 5
KNOW THIS: Thomas Milone accounted for four of the Panthers' first five touchdowns Saturday. He threw a 70-yard touchdown, caught two touchdowns and ran for another in a 53-8 win over Notre Dame of Fairfield. NEXT: at Weston, Saturday, 1 p.m.
6. Xavier-Middletown 6-1 232 6
KNOW THIS: The Falcons had a remarkable comeback Friday, rallying from a 28-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Hillhouse, 50-49. They tied the state-record for the largest comeback, sharing it with Bacon Academy and St. Joseph of Trumbull. NEXT: at Shelton, Friday, 7 p.m.
7. Greenwich 6-0 224 7
KNOW THIS: Staples wasn't the only FCIAC team to drop 63 points on an opponent Saturday — Liam O'Neil completed 12 of 19 passes for 215 yards and five touchdowns as the Cardinals crunched Westhill, 63-22. NEXT: at McMahon, Friday, 7 p.m.
8. West Haven 6-1 215 8
KNOW THIS: Ervin Philips ran 13 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, threw a 45-yard touchdown to Andre Gee, and scored on a 75-yard punt return in Friday's 49-20 win over Cheshire. NEXT: vs. Wilbur Cross, Friday, 7 p.m.
9. Southington 7-0 189 9
KNOW THIS: The Blue Knights went vertical in Saturday's 42-10 rout of Hall. Stephen Barmore completed 16 of 25 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. NEXT: at Simsbury, Friday, 7 p.m.
10. Berlin 7-0 147 10
KNOW THIS: Justin Gombotz ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns in Friday's 34-14 win over Plainville. NEXT: vs. Platt, Friday, 7 p.m.
Also receiving votes: Newtown (7-0), 102 points; Glastonbury (6-1), 94; Norwich Free Academy (7-0), 88; Trinity Catholic- Stamford (7-0), 79; Tie, Hillhouse-New Haven (5-2) and Middletown (6-1), 76; New Canaan (6-1), 41; North Branford (6-0), 36; Avon (7-0), 31; Wolcott (7-0), 28; Barlow-Redding (7-0), 22; Tie, Farmington (6-1) and Woodland-Beacon Falls (5-1), 8.
The following coaches voted: Tom Brockett, Ansonia; Jim Buonocore, Ledyard; Craig Bruno, Bunnell; Dave Cadelina, Bridgeport Central; Steve Filippone, Hand; Rob Fleeting, Windsor; Tanner Grove, Montville; Jude Kelly, St. Paul; Tim King, Valley Regional; Sean Marinan, Xavier; John Murphy, Masuk; Marce Petroccio, Staples; Bob Zito, Maloney.