GREENWICH, Conn. – The Greenwich High football team nearly erased a 20-point halftime deficit in the conference championship game Thanksgiving morning, but Joey Zelkowitz’s record rushing day proved to be too much.
Greenwich fell to Staples High of Westport for the second year in a row, 48-30, suffering its first loss of the season.
“They made the big plays, and we didn’t. We had some nice plays, but they made more of them,” Greenwich head coach Rich Albonizio said. “They’re tough, and they've got a nice football team.”
The game’s momentum started in Greenwich’s favor when the Cardinals recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff. But quarterback Liam O’Neil was picked off in the end zone on Greenwich’s first play from scrimmage, giving the ball right back to Staples.
The Wreckers – Zelkowitz, in particular – proceeded to run all over Greenwich’s defense. The Staples senior running back set a conference championship record by rushing for 317 yards while scoring three touchdowns.
Zelkowitz was named the game’s MVP after obliterating the old title game record of 226 yards set by Steve Longo of Greenwich in 2001. The Staples running back had broken the record by halftime, going into the break with 262 rushing yards.
Trailing 34-14 at halftime, Alex McMurray almost singlehandedly pulled Greenwich back into the game with a pair of touchdown runs. He finished with three scores on the day.
Greenwich stayed close thanks to several Staples miscues on special teams. Austin Longi returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals recovered a fumble on a punt return that set up a McMurray touchdown, and they snagged two points on a safety when a Staples punt attempt sailed out of the end zone.
The safety pulled the Cardinals to within four points in the third quarter. But a 46-yard touchdown run by Staples quarterback Jack Massie and Zelkowitz’s third touchdown run of the day sank Greenwich’s hopes for a comeback victory.
“We had our opportunities. We just didn’t take advantage of some,” Albonizio said. “Our defensive scheme just didn’t hold up in that first half against their run game. You give them a hole, and they’re gone.”
Greenwich quarterback Liam O’Neil had a rough day, getting sacked four times and giving up three interceptions.
Despite the loss, Greenwich will play in the Class LL state tournament as the sixth seed. The Cardinals will travel to defending state champs, Xavier of Middletown, on Tuesday for a 6:30 p.m. game.