Falling behind Ridgefield by 21 points in the first half was obviously, not in the Greenwich High School football team’s plans Friday night, but the daunting deficit didn’t deter the Cardinals from turning to their ground and pound running game.
Good things happen when the Cardinals run the ball with their formidable backfield duo of Jack Konigsberg and George Vomvolakis, as Ridgefield could certainly attest to.
Konigsberg ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns, Vomvolakis broke loose for a clutch 40-yard scoring run and quarterback Jack Wilson used his legs, rushing for three touchdowns in Greenwich’s action-packed 49-42 comeback win over rival Ridgefield in an early-season FCIAC game held before a big crowd at Tiger Hollow Stadium.
Greenwich, ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT poll, improved its record to 2-0 with the exciting victory. The Cardinals kicked off their 2022 campaign last week with a 34-14 road triumph against Newtown.
Ridgefield held a 7-0 lead on Greenwich after the first quarter and opened a 21-0 advantage with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter – not exactly the kind of start the Cardinals envisioned.
“Being behind 21-0 is not a happy place to be,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “I told the guys not to go crazy, to settle down and play your brand of football. We know we have a strong offense, we knew that 21 points wasn’t going to be enough to beat us. I would have rather we stopped them at 21, but Ridgefield at home – this is two home-openers that we had to play on the road and that’s not an easy task, especially a team coming off a loss last week.”
“With weapons all over the field, that might be one of the best offenses we play all year,” Morello continued. “This was a great football game, I’m just super proud of the resiliency of this football team.”
Indeed, Ridgefield which dropped a 55-14 decision on the road against Shelton a week ago, entered the game pumped up for its home-opener and was in top form. Senior quarterback Justin Keller passed for 239 yards with three touchdown passes and junior wide receiver Kyle Colsey was also one of the Tigers’ offensive standouts.
The Tigers (0-2) scored on their first possession. Junior wide receiver Michael Dowd reached the end zone on a 2-yard sweep, capping an eight-play 69-yard scoring drive and giving the home team a 7-0 lead. Ridgefield’s defense sacked Wilson on Greenwich’s ensuing drive, forced a fumble on the play and recovered just before midfield.
Keeping the ball, Keller scored on a 12-yard run, putting the Tigers ahead, 14-0, seven seconds into the second quarter. On the ensuing play, Ridgefield kicked the ball off short and recovered at Greenwich’s 31-yard line. Four plays later, Keller rolled right and completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Colsey in the right corner of the end zone. Just like that Greenwich stared at a 21-0 deficit with 10:28 remaining in the second quarter, but it wasn’t cause for panic.
The Cardinals went on a 62-yard drive on the game’s next possession, capped by Konigsberg’s 8-yard run up the middle for a touchdown, cutting the Tigers’ advantage to 21-6. Wilson completed passes to senior wide receivers James Wailgum and Charlie Dixon to keep the scoring drive moving.
“Today, we knew we had to come out hot and we didn’t do that at the beginning,” the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Konigsberg said. “We started to get the run game going, the offensive line did a great job and we started scoring points.”
Indeed, Konigsberg packs plenty of power when he runs the ball in his straight-ahead style
“I try my hardest to run hard,” he said. “I try to stay low and at the end of the day whether it’s three or 15 yards, I lean forward. I run hard and my offensive line does a great job of letting me do that.”
After Greenwich’s defense stepped up and forced a Ridgfield three-and-out, it closed to within a score of the Tigers. Wilson showed his mobility, scrambling for a 14-yard touchdown run. Senior Sergot Boone kicked the extra point and GHS closed to within, 21-13 with 2:10 left in the second quarter.
As the game wore on, the Cards’ offensive line of Jake Kiernan, Teddy Flinn, Peter Vomvolakis, Vinny Insinga and Drew Falla, imposed their will, getting a significant push up front, allowing Konigsberg and George Vomvolakis to gain yards in bunches and gain first downs.
“It’s tough to put the defense in that situation where we basically go three-and-out in plus territory, but I thought in the second half we definitely picked it up,” said Kiernan, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “The offense got that workmanlike mentality that we’re always preaching in practice and we went to work. We started grinding it out and it showed.”
On their opening possession of the second half, the Cardinals trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 21-20. Receiving time to throw, courtesy of the offensive line, Wilson dropped back to pass and threw a 50-yard scoring strike down the left sideline to Wailgum, who got behind the secondary and dashed into the end zone with 8:06 to go in the third quarter.
“Jack and I both saw something during that play before the play even started,” Wailgum said. “The safety came down, I gave him a look, he gave me a look and I knew I was going to at least catch the ball. All things worked out, Jack put the ball where it needed to be and it worked out really well.”
Falling behind by three scores, Greenwich showed a sense of urgency and stepped up its execution on both sides of the ball.
“We came off to a slow start in the first quarter really and we battled back,” Wailgum said. “We went down 21 and we had a gut check there and we had a realization that we had to wake up or lose and I’m really glad that we put it together and that’s the team we are.”
Ridgefield’s offense quickly responded, however. On the next possession, the elusive Keller scrambled 31 yards to the end zone, increasing coach Kevin Callahan’s Tigers lead to 28-21.
Konigsberg escaped for a 32-yard touchdown dash on the Cards’ next possession, making it 28-26, at the 5:03 mark of the third quarter, then Wilson concluded another Cardinals’ scoring march with a 1-yard TD off a sneak. Electing to go for two, Konigsberg ran in the two-point conversion run and GHS had its first lead of the game at 34-28 with 1:53 to go in the third stanza.
Vomvolakis then used his speed to break away from the defense for a 40-yard TD run. He also ran it into the end zone for a two-point conversion, upping Greenwich’s edge to 42-28 with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter. He credited the linemen up front.
“It’s all our offensive line,” George Vomvolakis said. “I’m nothing without our offensive line. At the end of the day, my offensive line did a great job, Wilson did a great job, our wide receivers did a great job blocking. Everybody did a great job after we fell down 21-0. We said at halftime, ‘listen boys pick it up,’ we didn’t hold each other down, we kept each other up and we came out with the win.”
The Tigers kept it close, as Jordan Varian caught an 8-yard scoring strike from Keller at the 7:33 mark of the final quarter, making it 42-35. Greenwich, however, went back ahead by two scores, as Wilson scored for a third time – this time on a 3-yard run up the middle with 1:15 left to play.
Wilson spread the ball around to Wailgum, senior Charlie Dixon and senior tight end Dominic DeLuca, who along with junior linebacker Griffin Galletta, helped pace the Cards’ defensive effort. Morello was especially pleased with the team’s running attack and blocking.
“The offensive line has been terrific,” Morello said. “We are able to do so many things. The protection outside of that sack in the first quarter, was excellent. Jack had time to throw the ball and they were opening up big holes all night for our running backs to run through. The passing game was great. To see Wailgum get going was nice. We’ve been preaching blocking from our wideouts. I’m really happy with how they blocked with us tonight.”
Greenwich hosts non-conference foe Southington on Sept. 24 at 3 p.m. at Cardinal Stadium.
“Southington, that’s a great football team,” Wailgum said. “That’s our homecoming, so we’re all very excited for that. I can’t wait to be out on the field next weekend.”
Said Kiernan: “We started off slow, but we battled back. We knew we were the better team at halftime, we knew that we had to put work into every play, just one play at a time. We trusted each other and that’s what I think, brought us the win.”