By Dave Ruden
WESTPORT — The past six months have been too much about watching and not enough action of Patrick Lesch.
And Staples High School’s star running back does not do watching very well.
Lesch sustained a labral tear in his hip last spring, sidelining him for much of the best lacrosse season in school history. Then he sat out the football team’s season-opening loss to Xavier last week.
“It was awful,” Lesch said. “I missed a great lacrosse season, I missed our first football game. It was really frustrating.”
Lesch returned Friday night, and the timing could not have been more perfect. Lesch rushed for 69 yards, caught two passes for 10 yards and scored what proved to be the winning touchdown in the Wreckers’ 14-7 win over Wilton.
“It was fantastic,” said Lesch, who had to leave the game at the end after sustaining a bruise above the hip. “I waited a while to get back with these guys, to get back out here and to bring it home, and getting a win on Homecoming is huge.”
In terms of gauging where the Wreckers stand right now, the game provided more questions than answers. They were out of sync on offense and outplayed in the second half.
Wilton, a team no one will want to face this season, ran 18 plays to just four by Staples in the third quarter. The Warriors held a 21:57-8:03 edge in time of possession in the second half. If not for a parade of penalties by Wilton, and a game-saving interception on the goal line by Staples’ Bobby Jacowleff, the Wreckers might be looking at an 0-2 hole.
“We made a big play when we had to make a big play, but there were too many mistakes tonight,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “Too many penalties, too many missed assignments. For whatever reason, and I will have to watch film, we just didn’t look right tonight on offense.”
Staples went three-and-out on its first possession, but after the defense held, Will Johnson, with Petroccio on the sideline waving him around like a runway traffic controller, got to the outside and sped 75 yards for a touchdown.
Lesch carried the ball on six of the Wreckers’ eight plays that resulted in his 6-yard run that put Staples up, 14-0, with 2:50 left in the first half.
Those were their final points of the night.
Brett Phillips, who played a spectacular game at quarterback for Wilton, answered back six plays later with a 9-yard touchdown run, after completing three passes for 28 yards and adding a 25-yard run.
Wilton, which opened the season with a win over Guilford, got down to the Staples’ 20 on its opening possession of the second half, but the drive ended with Phillips getting sacked on consecutive plays.
The Warriors drove to the Staples’ 24 the next time they got the ball, but were hurt by a holding penalty and lost the ball on downs.
Phillips got the ball back at his own 23 with 2:57 left. He ran for 11 yards, then two plays later hit Dan Baird for 22 yards, followed by a 10-yard run.
But in one of Phillips’ few mistakes, his final pass of the night ended up in the hands of Jacowleff.
“Penalties in the red zone,” Cunningham said, shaking his head. No moral victories, none of that stuff. We have to learn from it. For us to take the next step, we have to play games like this. We have to find a way to get over the hump and not make mistakes.”
Petroccio admitted, like many, he came away not really sure what to make of his team.
“We’ll take it, but I can’t watch this all year,” Petroccio said. “We have to figure out what went wrong and fix it.”
Lesch had better context to come away satisfied. And if people remained skeptical about the Wreckers, all the better.
“We’re definitely not getting talked up like we have in the past, but we like that,” he said. “We like to be underdogs. People don’t expect much from us, and we like to prove them wrong. It gives us a little extra motivation.”