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Staples Searches to Find Xavier's Flaw

WESTPORT, Conn. – In his 19 years as head coach of three-time state champion football team at Staples High School, Marce Petroccio has become adept at finding his opponents' flaws.

But for Saturday’s Class LL championship game against top-seeded Xavier of Middletown, the coach of the No. 2 seeded Wreckers is coming up empty. Staples (12-0) kicks off against Xavier (12-0) Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

“They’re phenomenal,’’ Petroccio says. “They’re big, strong and well coached. We’re going to go up there and compete. I know that.”

Xavier has smashed opponents all season and is the top-ranked team in the state in the New Haven Register state football poll. The Falcons have a size advantage over nearly every team they play. They are also extremely quick, a difficult combination for any opposing coach.

“We’ll have to watch more film to see what we might be able to do against them,’’ Petroccio said during a Tuesday news conference at Rentschler Field. “Right now, I can’t give you one weakness that I see.”

Staples has its strengths, too, with an offense that has generated 123 points in its last three games. In the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship game, the Wreckers posted a 31-27 win over Greenwich, a team that had been playing especially well on defense. They followed by beating Ridgefield, 48-21, and Newtown, 44-20, in the Class LL playoffs.

The key for the Wreckers is their offensive balance. Quarterback Jack Massie threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns against Newtown. Jon Heil ran for 366 yards and four touchdowns against Ridgefield. Nick Kelly and Joey Zelkowitz combined for 160 rushing yards against Greenwich. Some teams can take away some of Staples’ weapons. It is hard to stop them all.

Staples also has a fighting spirit. In the third week of the season, the Wreckers trailed Brien McMahon, 21-7, late in the third quarter and rallied for a 24-21 victory on a field goal by Robbie Wolf on the final play. Staples trailed Greenwich, 27-17, in the league championship game Thanksgiving Day before rallying for the victory. The Wreckers even spotted Newtown a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before coming back with 30 unanswered points.

“Once we won the McMahon game at the end like we did, it said a lot about the character of the team,’’ Petroccio said. “Nothing really fazes them. Whether they’re up 14 or down 14, they stay the same. I think after that win they started to believe in themselves.”

Staples has won three state titles under Petroccio, the most recent in 2005. It lost in its last appearance in 2009 to Cheshire, 28-21, in overtime. Staples defeated Xavier, 31-28, in the semifinals. That was the last loss for the Falcons, who took the Class LL title last year with a 24-13 win over Trumbull.

“That was a long time ago,’’ Petroccio said. “We don’t have anybody on our team now that played in that game. Xavier is a storied program and they have some excellent football players. We have some good football players, too. It should be a great game.”

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