In Staples’ 1st regular season game ever, in 1958, the Wreckers lost to Andrew Warde, 3-2.
In 1961 Staples won its 1st FCIAC championship — the 1st time the league sponsored a title match. They went on to win a total of 26, heading into tonight’s game. Before tonight Fairfield Warde — the successor to first Andrew Warde, and then Fairfield High — had never been in an FCIAC final.
But the Mustangs were on a roll. They lost only 3 times this year — 2-1 to Staples in game 1 of the regular season, then to Ridgefield and New Canaan. They avenged those latter 2 defeats in the FCIAC tournament’s 1st 2 rounds, and as fate would have it they faced Staples in the final.
The Wreckers were on their own roll. After starting the season 1-2, they roared to a 14-0-1 mark. While Warde featured a talented cast of hungry seniors, Staples countered with their own battle-tested veterans. Seven seniors had already won 2 FCIAC championships, and they were gunning for a 3rd.
The last time the blue-and-whites 3-peated by winning outright was 1979-81. Back then it was tougher to get into the tournament — only the top 2 teams qualified — but it only took 1 game to win the crown.
(Counting the co-championship in 1978 and a win in ’77, that was actually a 5-peat for the Westporters.)
From 1989-91, when the tournament involved the top 4 teams, Staples also 3-peated. The ’89 and ’91 crowns were shared, as the Wreckers tied Ridgefield and Danbury (both 1-1 scores).
The Westporters had the 1st good chance tonight at Norwalk’s Testa Field — the site of their 2 most recent championships — off a corner kick to Brendan Lesch.
But Warde was ready to battle. They forced James Hickok into a tough 10th-minute save.
That’s the way the 1st half went: back and forth. The Wreckers midfield was stretched more than usual; the backs dropped back a tad more too. Lesch, Greg Gudis, Jake Krosse and Mikey Scott moved forward well, but too many long balls doomed their chances.
Jake Malowitz’s straight-out-of-training-drill clearance off the line in the 23rd minute was key to keeping the scoreline clean. Hickok saved again in the 35th minute; at the other end Steve Smith’s arcing free kick was punched out by Mustang keeper Dylan Strachen.
At halftime the Wreckers talked about the need to keep the ball more on the nice, newly laid turf. They barely had time to try — because just 26 seconds after the 2nd-half whistle blew, they scored.
Hickok outletted to midfield. Lesch headed forward to Gudis. The striker-turned-midfielder picked up the ball 40 yards out. He raced directly to goal, then powered a shot hard and low.
Staples keeper coach Tom Henske’s mantra is “goals follow goals.” He didn’t say it this time — and the team paid for it. Just 72 seconds later Taylor Rosenblum laced a rebound into the bottom right corner, sending the emphatic message that the Mustangs would not quit.
It was a long time since the Wreckers had been surprised like that. But they picked up their heads, and went to work.
Lesch and overlapping defender Frankie Bergonzi did nice work in the corners.
In the 53rd minute Scott picked up the ball for a throw-in. Like every opponent, Warde instinctively packed the box to clear what they knew would be a 40-yard bullet.
But Scott took a short throw to Krosse. Strachen fumbled Krosse’s shot. Court Lake pounced, but could not shoot cleanly. That was fine; Lesch somehow came up with the bouncing ball, then turned, fired and scored.
Longtime FCIAC observers were not surprised. Lesch has made a habit of scoring great goals in the league championship; this was one more to add to his list.
But the Fairfielders were far from through. They came on even more strongly in the final 15 minutes. Sean Gallagher kept defenders Bergonzi, Denowitz, Malowitz and Court Lake well positioned, repelling several dangerous forays.
It was Hickok, though, who was the man of the final moments. The sophomore keeper saved strongly several times — none better than with 3 minutes remaining. That was a punch save — moving backward on a long, curving ball that beat him over the top — that Hickok knocked off the crossbar.
A minute later, Hickok saved again high.
It was a nail-biting finish — but Staples prevailed. For the 27th time in 49 years, the Wreckers raced joyfully across the field when the final horn sounded.
For the 3rd straight time — unprecedented in high school soccer’s modern era — they were FCIAC champs. Final score: Staples 2, Fairfield Warde 1. Season record: 16-2-1.
QUICK KICKS: Brendan Lesch was named MVP of the match….
Warde outshot Staples 10-6. Each keeper had 5 saves, and each team had 4 corner kicks….
The game will be televised today (Thursday, Nov. 4), at 7 p.m. on MSG Varsity (channel 14 in Westport, channel 714 in HD)….
Counting the 2006 title, Staples has now won 4 FCIAC titles in 5 years….
The state “LL” (extra large schools) tournament starts Monday. The Wreckers have a home game (2 p.m.). The draw will be announced Friday.