GREENWICH, Conn. – The Greenwich High School football team is back in the state tournament after a five-year absence.
Sixth-seeded Greenwich takes on defending state champion Xavier in Middletown to kick off the Class LL state quarterfinals on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
The Cardinals are one of the most successful football programs in state history, having made 14 appearances in the state championship game (third all-time) and having won seven (tie, fifth all-time).
Despite all that success over a 31-year span, Greenwich will be making its first appearance in the state tournament since it won the title in 2007. The Cardinals missed out on the playoffs in 2008 and 2011 by just one win.
Greenwich rebounded this season with an impressive 8-1 record on the year. The Cardinals' only defeat came in a 48-30 Thanksgiving Day loss in the conference championship to top-ranked Staples of Westport.
The Cardinals were without starting quarterback Liam O'Neil to start the season for the second year in a row. But O'Neil came back from a broken finger in Greenwich's fourth game of the season, passing for 1,079 yards and 14 touchdowns in six games. O'Neil has the highest completion percentage and quarterback rating in the state among eligible players.
O'Neil's favorite targets on the field this season have been Joe Kelly and Vincent Ferraro. The wide receiver tandem has combined for 14 touchdowns - more than 1,000 yards receiving.
In O'Neil's absence to start the season, Greenwich relied on backup quarterback Jose Melo and all-purpose player Alex McMurray to call the plays. Since O'Neil's return, Melo and McMurray still have been two of Greenwich's most productive players.
McMurray has rushed for 546 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also racking up 194 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. Melo has provided some solid time at wide receiver, adding 247 receiving yards and a touchdown to his stats.
Greenwich's offense has averaged 47 points per game and its defense has allowed an average of only 17 points per game this season.
The Cardinals will face a stiff challenge in Xavier, which was handed its first loss in three years during the regular season. Xavier rolled over Staples in last year's state championship game, 42-7.