Last season’s Thanksgiving Day football game between FCIAC rivals Greenwich and Staples saw the Cardinals register an exciting overtime win in a classic, back-and-forth battle and today’s matchup between the formidable one-loss teams was the same type of duel, as they matched each other touchdown-for-touchdown until the final minute.
This time however, it was the Wreckers’ time to celebrate a dramatic win at the important game’s conclusion.
Quarterback Caleb Smith’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Will Holleman with 1:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, followed by Jack McColl’s successful point-after-attempt, lifted Staples to a hard-fought 39-38 comeback win over visiting Greenwich in the regular season finale for both squads.
With the victory, Staples improved its record to 9-1 and secured the No. 4 seed in the CIAC Class LL Tournament, which begins next week. Coached by Adam Behrends, the Wreckers will host fifth-seeded Fairfield Prep in Tuesday’s Class LL Tournament quarterfinals. Greenwich, which finished its regular season with a record of 8-2, is seeded second in the Class LL Tournament and will play visiting Hamden in Tuesday’s Class LL quarterfinals. The Cardinals’ two losses this season have both been by one point. They were edged by Southington, 29-28, in Week 3.
“The message was simple to the guys, we made too many mistakes in all aspects of the game,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “It was a great football game. They made less mistakes and capitalized on opportunities and ultimately, we came up short. It’s our second one-point loss of the year, our only two losses of the year. It stings, but it wasn’t our best day and we know we can do so much better.”
Smith completed 16 of 34 passes for 313 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Staples totaled 440 yards of offense and ran 74 plays, compared to 50 for Greenwich.
“It helped to keep the defense off the field,” Behrends said of his team’s time of possession advantage. “I thought we had a good mix of run and pass. “You want to take what the defense gives you but when you can have a good mix of run and pass and possess the ball, it definitely allows the defense to get their wind back.”
The Cardinals, who defeated the Wreckers, 34-28, in overtime on Thanksgiving of 2021, received two touchdown runs by senior Jack Konigsberg, a touchdown rushing from senior George Vomvolakis and a score off a kickoff return from Vomvolakis.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Greenwich held a 13-7 halftime lead. Staples posted the first 14 points of the third quarter to seize a 21-13 lead, then the Cardinals responded with 10 straight points to take a 23-21 advantage in the matchup, which featured seven lead changes.
“It was a wild game at the end,” Morello said. “Even with a minute left there was no doubt that this team was ready to make its way down field for a game-winning drive with no time outs. We came up a little short, but it’s just amazing to see the resiliency of this team and how they never let down and how they never quit.”
Trailing 38-32, after a Cardinals touchdown, the Wreckers began the ensuing possession at the GHS after Tyler Clark ran the kickoff back his team’s 46-yard line. Smith completed passes of 11 and 27 yards, then threw an 11-yard scoring strike to Holleman, a senior, with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter.
“Caleb is a warrior,” Behrends said. “No moment is too big for him and he will always keep swinging.”
The Cards took possession with a minute remaining in the final quarter, but they were stopped on downs at the Staples 44-yard line with 29 seconds remaining and the Wreckers avenged last season’s loss.
“This is a very resilient group of kids we have,” Behrends said. “It was a rollercoaster ride. Hats off to Greenwich, that’s a well-coached, physical football team. They kept battling. I’m really proud of the fight and grit our guys showed.”
Vomvolakis returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, tying the score at 21-21. The Cardinals then went ahead, 23-21, when Smith was sacked in the end zone with 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The visitors got the ball right back following the safety, but their ensuing drive was halted at their own 40-yard line. Staples then took possession and took the lead, with Smith connecting with junior wide receiver Sam Petrosino at the 10:36 mark of the fourth quarter. Smith completed the ensuing 2-point conversion pass, making it 29-23.
“One miscue that was a major turning point is when we were able to get a safety on defense and we were not able to capitalize on that offensively,” Morello said. “That is really when the tide turned. Unfortunately for us, Staples took full advantage of that opportunity.”
A 20-yard field goal by McColl put Greenwich in a 32-23 hole with just 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter. The Cards, however, still had plenty left.
On a 4th-and-7 play from the Wreckers 20-yard line, Greenwich senior quarterback Jack Wilson threw a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Charlie Dixon. Senior Sergot Boone kicked the extra point, cutting the Cardinals’ deficit to 32-30 at the 2:33 mark of the fourth quarter.
Vomvolakis put Greenwich on top when he broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown run. Wilson scored on the ensuing 2-point conversion run and the Cardinals held a 38-32 edge with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter and were oh, so close, to gaining their ninth win of the season and sixth straight on Thanksgiving against the Wreckers.
Konigsberg rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, while Vomvolakis gained 65 yards on the ground with a score. Dixon had four receptions for 49 yards, while senior wideout James Wailgum and junior Jake Stefanowicz each caught two passes for Greenwich, which had 261 yards of offense.
Wilson was 11 for 28 passing for 102 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“Coach Behrends has been working really hard and that whole team had a goal in mind the minute they lost that game against us last year,” Morello said. “They achieved that goal today, so hats off them and their coaches. I wish them good luck in the playoffs next week. If we both do our jobs the rest of the way, it won’t be the last time we see each other.”
Greenwich senior defensive lineman Andre Castellanos and junior linebacker/defensive back Sebastian Parra each intercepted a Smith pass in the opening half. Konigsberg ran it into the end zone from 11 yards out and Boone kicked the extra point, giving Greenwich a 7-0 advantage eight seconds into the second quarter.
Staples, which like Greenwich, entered the matchup averaging more than 40 points per game, knotted the score at 7-7 when Smith found Clark for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 5:10 to go in the second quarter. Clark entered the game with 1,096 yards receiving and 69 receptions, tops on the Staples squad.
Staples had possession for a little more than 32 minutes of the game, while Greenwich had the ball for a little over 15 minutes.”
“Our defense played lights out and made big plays when they needed to,” Behrends said.
The Wreckers made 24 first downs, while the Cardinals had 14 first downs.
In the second half, Staples put 32 points on the scoreboard, while Greenwich scored 25. The bracket for the CIAC Class LL state tournament is scheduled to be released at 10 a.m. on Friday. Since Greenwich is the second seed and Hamden is No. 7, it will host Hamden in the quarterfinals of the eight-team Class LL Tournament.
Staples will play host to No. 5 Fairfield Prep.
“The goal that we set at the beginning of the season is still intact,” Morello said. “We are excited to be hosting Tuesday’s playoff game, after being on the road the past two seasons. We’re really excited to host one. We’re really excited it’s Hamden. Coach (Tom) Dyer is a great coach, they have a great team. I don’t know if we’ve ever played before, but I certainly never played against Hamden, so it should be a lot of fun.”
“That’s a really exciting feeling to have – to go into the playoffs with a fearless bunch of guys that are going to sell out until there are zeros across the scoreboard,” Morello noted.”