Unbeaten Staples tops Ridgefield, 35-17

Gianni Gorham looks to elude a Staples player after catching a pass in Friday night's game. - Scott Mullin photo
Gianni Gorham looks to elude a Staples player after catching a pass in Friday night's game. — Scott Mullin photo

Trailing 14-7 early in the second quarter, the Ridgefield High football team was 36 inches away from a possible game-tying score.

Following a 67-yard pass completion from Owen Matthews to Gianni Gorham, the Tigers had a first and goal at the Staples one-yard line. But the Wreckers kept Ridgefield out of the end zone on three straight plays, and a missed field goal on fourth down left Staples ahead by seven points.

The Tigers got no closer.

Staples pushed its halftime lead to 28-10 and went on to beat Ridgefield, 35-17, on Friday evening at Tiger Hollow.

The unbeaten Wreckers improved their record to 4-0 while dropping Ridgefield to 2-2. The loss left the Tigers 21st in the Class LL state playoff point rankings with six regular-season games remaining. The top-eight teams qualify for the postseason.

Right out of the gate Friday, the Wreckers’ tactics were apparent. Employing a hurry-up offense intended to catch the Ridgefield defense off guard, Staples took charge. Less than three minutes into the opening quarter the Wreckers went ahead 7-0 on quarterback Jake Thaw's seven-yard touchdown run.

Ridgefield's initial possession was not a pretty one. On the first play from scrimmage, senior running back Ben Seward, a catalyst on offense for the Tigers, went down with an injury. The Wreckers forced a quick three-and-out and got the ball back.

Following a run from Thaw and a 15-yard penalty against the Tigers, Staples added its second score. Thaw tossed a pass to wide receiver Dylan Ward, who made a great catch for a 25-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with seven minutes left in the first quarter.

Ridgefield responded on its next drive, with junior wide receiver Brian Showstead making a nice over-the-shoulder basket catch on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Matthews. Sebastian Gasparo's extra point trimmed the Wreckers' lead to 14-7 late in the opening period.

The Tigers then had their chance to tie the game or get closer following Gorham's long pass reception. But the Staples defense held, and Gasparo's field-goal attempt was no good.

The first of defensive end Jackson Mitchell's two sacks helped Ridgefield get the ball back, but the Tigers had to punt following another three-and-out

Running back Timmy Luciano then scored on a 10-yard run to push Staples' lead to 21-7 midway through the second quarter.

The Wreckers' final score of the half came was aided by good fortune. Facing a fourth and three from its own 40-yard line, Staples prepared to punt. The punter dropped the snap but was able to pick up the ball and run for a first down.

Thaw's 32-yard run then set up Luciano's one-yard touchdown and put the Wreckers in front, 28-7.

Ridgefield was able to get three points back on its final drive of the half, as a pass from Matthews to Mitchell went for 47 yards, leading to Gasparo's 38-yard field goal and a 28-10 Staples lead at the break.

From a scoring standpoint, the second half was much quieter than the first.

Staples tacked on its final points midway through the third quarter on Luciano's third touchdown of the game, a four-yard run.

Ridgefield got its last points on the ensuing possession. Mitchell caught a pass for 22 yards at the start of the drive and then added a 23-yard touchdown reception. Gasparo's extra point cut Staples' lead to 35-17 with 3:47 left in the third quarter.

Although the Tigers kept Staples scoreless in the final period, the hosts were unable to score themselves. One issue throughout the game was pass protection: Staples took advantage of holes in the Ridgefield offensive line to sack Matthews eight times.

"We had our lapses,” said Matthews. “That team (Staples) went out there and they were more physical than us.

“We didn’t execute the way we needed to beat a really good team like that,” added Matthews. “But I think we learned a lot that we can build on and take into next week against St. Joe’s, and I think we have a good shot at them.”

Notes: Ridgefield faces another tough test next Friday night when it hosts reigning Class S state champion St. Joseph at 7 p.m. at Tiger Hollow.

After being injured on Ridgefield's first play from scrimmage, Seward was eventually able to return to the game.