Senior captain Luke Bienstock is healthy once again and it was very obvious during Friday night’s Greenwich High School football game against Norwalk.
With the Bears and Cardinals battling back-and-forth under the lights at Cardinal Stadium, it was Bienstock’s nearly 250-yard performance, as well as a solid effort from the GHS offensive line, that was the difference maker in Big Red’s 33-28 victory.
“I’ve been saying this from the moment I got here that he’s the best running back in the FCIAC,” Greenwich High School head coach John Marinelli said. “What he does [during the game] is nothing. He’s amazing at practice and is a hard worker. He works on his craft and it shows. Thank God for him today. And our offensive line was phenomenal. Frankie [Alfano] made some great reads to keep the ball at times and shake up the run game, but when we really needed to get yards, Luke Bienstock was the guy to go to. He’s a warrior and such an animal.”
In the second week of the season, Bienstock needed surgery to his right elbow due to a staph infection. And a healthy Bienstock is certainly a welcomed sight for Big Red.
“This is the best that I’ve felt since I had the surgery a few weeks ago,” Bienstock said. “I felt like I had endurance. Last week against Ludlowe I felt good, but today I felt a lot better. The line did a great job because they really opened it up today really well on my big runs. Kids are making blocks until the end. I had my vision and I was able to do it.”
Bienstock finished the day with 246 yards, had three touchdowns and two kickoff returns for over 50 yards.
“I wanted the ball today,” Bienstock said. “It was team effort. It wasn’t just me, but I felt good today and I was focused.”
And when the team needed Bienstock to deliver when it mattered most, he made a statement. With Big Red on top 33-28 with 5:58 to play in the game, Greenwich got the ball on its 28-yard line. Bienstock took the handoff on the first play on the drive for 18 yards.
With all the stellar runs on the night, it was a 2-yard gain that was the highlight. With less than three minutes to play, Greenwich was facing a third down and 1 at the Norwalk 36. On the handoff, Bienstock plowed up the middle and gained two yards to keep the clock moving and the drive alive.
Two more runs of 13 and 15 yards, respectively, iced the game and a victory for Greenwich. While Bienstock stole the show, it was the offensive line led by Kevin Woodring, Ian Bannon, Chase Piro, Daniel Ezquivel and Glenn Saperstein were all a force to be reckoned with.
“When it came down to it, it was Luke,” Marinelli said. “To have a guy back there is great, but his work isn’t possible without the boys up front. They’ve been consistent all year long.”
With the victory, Greenwich moved above .500 with a 4-3 record.
At the start of the contest, it appeared like Greenwich made a statement. After Norwalk went three and out to start the game, Greenwich got the ball. Three plays in, Bienstock pushed his way up the middle for 20 yards. A play later, Kevin Iobbi found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown with 9:42 to play in the quarter.
However, Norwalk, led by quarterback Krishtjan Frrokaj, came right back and took a 7-6 lead. After the snap sailed high over the NHS quarterback, he gained possession, rolled to the left, eluded two tackles and found Amyr Rivera for the 20-yard touchdown.
Greenwich regained the lead on the ensuing drive, courtesy of Alfano and Bienstock. In the six-play drive, Bienstock carried four times, with three runs over 10 yards. Alfano ran for six yards and connected on a 10-yard scamper up the middle of the field and dove into the end zone for the 12-7 lead with 3:24 to play in the quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, another Norwalk botched play led to an end zone celebration. On their own 43-yard line, Frrokaj once again was faced with a high snap. Scooping up the loose ball he dodged three Greenwich defenders, ran towards the GHS sideline and threw a perfectly placed ball to Deandre Russel, who caught the ball at the 20-yard line and ran it in the rest of the way for the score and 14-12 lead.
From there, Greenwich’s defense stepped up its game. Norwalk was once again driving, however Big Red’s Ben Kraninger stepped in front of the pass for the interception. While Greenwich punted on its ensuing drive, Norwalk wasn’t able to capitalize, as huge tackles from Scooter Harrington, Jake Herman and Peter Santry were key reasons why the Bears turned the ball over on downs.
Trailing by two at halftime, Bienstock was determined to get Big Red back on top. He took the opening kickoff return of the second half back to the Norwalk 23. Four plays later, Bienstock was in the end zone from a seven-yard TD run up the middle to give the Cards a 19-14 lead.
Again Norwalk grabbed the lead with 5:00 to play in the third, but again Bienstock gave Big Red the lead, this time for good. He took the ensuing kickoff back to the Norwalk 5. On the first play of the drive, Bienstock darted up the middle for the five-yard touchdown with 4:45 to play in the quarter.
“Norwalk had us off keel the secondary,” Marinelli said. “That quarterback is a good player. He made some plays and that really kept them in the game. Then you give a team like that some hope, so just when you’re ready to go in and it’s third and 18, now it’s first and 10. Our defense hung in there and got stops when we had to. To have the ball with six minutes to go and to run the clock out was great.”
The win for Greenwich inches Big Red closer to the possibility of reaching the state tournament. However it’s not going to be easy, as Greenwich faces Ridgefield next week and the Tigers are in the same boat as Greenwich.
“We don’t’ control our destiny, but we know how crazy states are,” Marinelli said. “To beat a three-win team like Norwalk, who went to Trumbull and beat them and could beat McMahon, that’s 50 points right there. Ridgefield is another 50 points. And then there’s Staples. Every team we play has something to fight for now. Playoff atmosphere for our kids. They showed up.”