BEACON FALLS — I told you so.
I promised an all-time local classic Friday night between Woodland and Naugatuck, and if you were one of the estimated 2,000 fans who joined us on top of the hill — well, thank you for helping to make one of the best high school atmospheres in recent memory.
There were so many different elements to the Hawks’ 25-22 win over the Greyhounds. There was no way I could fit all of them into the game story, and there was no way I could possibly contain the excitement generated from that game in one objective piece.
Crowd goes wild: This is the 10th season in which I have been going to Woodland football games, and it’s been about eight years since I can remember a crowd as big as the one that trekked up to the field last Friday night.
Even in those championship seasons of 2004 and 2005, though, I can’t remember a single time when a student section even came close to the one that blacked out the entire right side of the bleachers. There are around 750 students at Woodland, and it sure felt like half of them were at the game. That’s how it should be, and we got to see how cool it is when they come.
Naugatuck brought a solid crowd, too, even if it was a tad late arriving. I don’t think anybody was used to the 6:30 p.m. start, and I don’t think anybody remembers having to park so far away from the field to watch a game (a friend told me he had to park in the NEJ parking lot all the way down on Pinesbridge Road).
Woodland senior quarterback Tanner Kingsley said before the game that he hoped the crowd would rival those that came out to watch his older brothers, Shane and Cody, in the first five years of the program.
“I think that came true,” Kingsley said. “That’s the best student section we’ve ever had. I can’t even describe the atmosphere. I can’t thank our fans enough.”
Hawks coach Tim Shea is no stranger to huge crowds from his playing days in Naugatuck about 25 years ago. For the first time in his six-year tenure as Woodland’s head man, he said he felt a tangible crowd presence on the field.
“Any time you can play in front of a home crowd like this, it’s a real homefield advantage,” Shea said. “There was great juice in the school. Hopefully we’ve got the old crowds back.”
Kudos, too, to whomever was responsible for lighting off the fireworks at the end of the game.
‘It’s where it belongs’: Friday’s game was crucial for both teams, but Woodland may have had just a little extra motivation.
This year’s meeting between the Hawks and ‘Hounds was the first for the George Pinho Memorial Trophy, named for the Naugatuck native and Woodland coach who suddenly died in January. Pinho was the father of Jake and Jack Pinho — the former was a four-year player who graduated in 2011, and the latter is a senior on the squad.
Jack caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the first half, and after the game he accepted the trophy from his uncle, Tony, with his mother, Jane, by his side. He took the trophy, climbed atop Woodland’s bench and showed it to the crowd — none of which had left.
“It’s home,” he said. “It’s where it belongs.”
Kingsley said the trophy was too important for the Hawks not to claim the first one.
“We weren’t going to lose this game,” he said.
“We made a promise that it wasn’t going anywhere,” Shea said. “A lot of what George talked about is stuff we do. We talk about fearing the family. It’s about us as a family and what we have to do to protect this family. I believe that George was looking down on us tonight.”
Prediction gone wrong: I, of course, picked Naugatuck to win the game. On my Naugatuck Valley League Football Blog, I predicted a 44-42 score. I was wrong on both counts, which elicited a response from Woodland defensive coordinator Chris Moffo as the game ended.
“Keep picking against us!” he screamed my way three times as he climbed from the press box back to the field.
Well now I don’t have a reason to, man. The NVL Copper Division is now yours to lose.