Staples vs. NFA (State Tournament 1st Round)

After playing 10 games in 18 days, a loss in the FCIAC quarterfinals and a hurricane meant Staples did not play a match for the next 13 days.

Then a snowstorm made it 14.

The Wreckers’ first-round state tournament “LL” (extra large schools) opener was against Norwich Free Academy — away. As #17 seed, that meant a near 2-hour trip to southeastern Connecticut.

When they reached the Wildcats’ home — a couple of miles from campus — the blue-and-whites found a small, sloping field that showed the wear and tear of a long season. An ample wind blew too.

No matter. The Wreckers were just happy to be playing again.

With Bucknell-bound Harry Birch running the show — covering plenty of territory on the right, initiating attacks and directing his teammates — Staples took charge from the start.

The visitors had several early opportunities, and finally hit paydirt in the 12th minute. Greg Shikowitz won a bone-crunching tackle, and quickly laid off to Joe Greenwald. The co-captain finished convincingly.

It was almost 2-0 when the keeper bobbled a Yousef Shahin free kick.

On their next foray, the Wreckers earned a no-question-about-it penalty kick. Birch buried the ball, and now it was 2-0.

Staples continued to apply pressure, and doubled up defensively. In the 37th minute Shahin’s corner kick was cleared, but it came right back to Staples. Jack Scott fed Jordan McNair, who popped it easily home.

Two of the Wreckers’ younger players combined for goal #4, a minute before intermission. Freshman Joe Pravder assisted on sophomore Nate Argosh’s strike.

The halftime talk centered on the need to keep attacking — and keep the defensive scoreline clean.

Staples did just that. Diego Alanis was denied on the Westporters’ best shot of the day — a long-range bullet — but in the 56th minute Shahin’s long free kick was dummied by Alanis. Greenwald was right there to pot it.

With reserves seeing plenty of action — and continuing Staples’ solid play — freshman keeper Noah Schwaeber came up with the save of the day, a great box of the Wildcats’ most dangerous shot.

Two minutes from time, Sam Koenig launched a long throw. Noah Bender lost the ball to a hard tackle near the 18, but immediately won it back. He was in perfect position to score — and he did.

“I really was unsure how we’d start out,” head coach Dan Woog said. “Two weeks off is a long time — and this is state tournament play.

“But our guys came out with focus and ferocity — and it showed. They definitely earned the right to fight another day.”

That other day comes soon: tomorrow (Saturday). At 4 p.m., the Wreckers face the #1 seed — Norwalk — at the Bears’ Testa Field.

In early October the Wreckers played an excellent defensive game, but fell 2-0 on a pair of goals in the final 13 minutes.

Ever since, they’ve wanted another shot at Norwalk.

Now they’ve got it. FINAL SCORE: Staples 6, Norwich Free Academy 0. SEASON RECORD:  11-5-2.

QUICK KICKS: In the span of 26 hours, Staples will have played the team furthest (geographically) from them they’ve ever faced — and the team tied for closest. According to Google Maps, both Norwalk and Fairfield Ludlowe are 5.1 miles from Staples….

The only other time Staples faced NFA was 1992 — also in the 1st round. The Wreckers took that contest 7-0, then won 3 more times to reach the state finals.

Center back Andrew Puchala wins another ball against Norwich Free Academy. (Photo by Carl McNair)

Connor Weiler, in action this afternoon. (Photo by Carl McNair)

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