After missing last season with a neck injury, Joey Zelkowitz had been flying under the radar for the Staples football team, but that all changed on Saturday.
The junior running back erupted for 208 yards and three touchdowns as the Wreckers defeated St. Joseph 21-7 in their season opener in Trumbull.
Zelkowitz also had a 71-yard touchdown run called back on Staples' first play of scrimmage. He did most of his damage in the second half with long TD runs of 40 and 67 yards.
"We saw him in preseason and he's a special kid," Wreckers' coach Marce Petroccio said. "He runs low to the ground and he runs hard."
The Wreckers used Zelkowitz's two long runs to overcome a sluggish first in which they were held to 33 total yards. Their lone first-half score - which came on a 21-yard run by Zelkowitz - came on the first play after Staples recovered a botched punt by St. Joseph.
"The offensive line had some huge holes," Zelkowitz said. "We were well-conditioned and ready for this game."
Still, the Wreckers didn't do much offensively in the first half, relying on the defense and the special teams mistake by the Cadets to take a 7-0 halftime lead.
St. Joseph, whch graduated 16 starters, including quarterback Joe Della Vecchia, who set a set a state record for career touchdown passes, also had trouble moving the ball against the Wreckers' secondary. Staples forced four interceptions - two each by Vasili Tziolis and James Frusciante.
"It's a big work in progress," St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. "I knew it was different on the ride here this morning, but the kids have to step up and make plays. It's their time, so we'll be all right. They'll get better each game."
Junior Patrick Boyle won a four-way battle for the starting quarterback job and Della Vecchia had no qualms about letting him throw early and often.
Boyle completed 17-of-37 passes for 122 yards and engineered a nice drive on the Cadets' first possession of the second half, when they tied it on Kyron Crawford's 1-yard TD run. But the Wreckers allowed nothing deep with their tight coverage.
"We needed the defense to come out today and make a statement," Petroccio said. "You got one starter back on defense, the rest of the guys are new, so they did a phenomenal job against a team that can really throw the football."
The Wreckers needed just 25 seconds to answer the Cadets' TD as Zelkowitz scored on the second play of the ensuing drive. Staples then got the ball back on Frusciante's interception at the Wreckers' 25.
After one first down, Zelkowitz cut to the outside and raced down the left side for his third score of the afternoon. He ended up rushing for 166 yards in the second half.
"I just felt in the second half we wore them down and the offensive line played much better," Petroccio said.
The Cadets were forced to punt on their next two possessions and the Wreckers put away the contest on Tziolis' interception late in the fourth quarter. He returned it 46 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it also was called back because of an illegal block in the back.
"We have an offense that is tough to defend, (but) they did a good job defending us," Della Vecchia said. "I don't think we did a good job running the offense. We were sluggish and slow. We didn't fight as much as we needed to get open. We got a lot of young kids playing for the first time so they have to figure it out on the fly."
The Wreckers could have added to their lead but missed two field goals in the fourth quarter. Sophomore quaterback jack Massie completed only two passes - both in the second half.
"We got four guys on the offensive line who haven't played a down," Petroccio said. "I'm just proud of the way they fought today. We're going to clean some up things, catch the football, hang on to it a little bit. if we can do that, we have something special here."