Woodland dominates Indians, Cross up next

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WATERTOWN — Perhaps reports that Woodland cannot be an offensive or defensive power were a bit premature after all. The Hawks wiped away all memories of last week’s debacle against Wolcott with a dominating, 22-12 win in Watertown Friday night, led by another strong rushing attack, a shut-down secondary, and overpowering line play.

Through four games, a theme has emerged in the Woodland offense—give the ball to Jack DeBiase, and success will be on his heels. After carrying the ball only 17 times for 47 yards against the Eagles, head coach Tim Shea and offensive coordinator Tim Phipps decided to place the pigskin back in DeBiase’s arms against Watertown—and boy, were they rewarded. The junior tailback sprung for a season-high 194 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns to power the Hawks back into the win column.

Senior defensive back Brandon Fowler breaks up a pass intended for Watertown's Dan Koerber during Woodland's 22-12 win over the Indians. Fowler's two interceptions in the second half helped propel the Hawks to victory.
Senior defensive back Brandon Fowler breaks up a pass intended for Watertown's Dan Koerber during Woodland's 22-12 win over the Indians. Fowler's two interceptions in the second half helped propel the Hawks to victory.

DeBiase will be the first to say all of Woodland’s offensive success originates in the trenches, and needless to say, the Hawks’ line was pushed around at will by the Eagles in week three. It was an entirely different story against the Indians, however, as the Hawks owned the line of scrimmage all night, paving the way for more than 200 rushing yards while holding one of the league’s best rushers, Anton Galaganov, to just 49 yards.

“We told the guys that last week was not a good representation of who we are,” Shea said. “Wolcott came out and punched us in the mouth early, and we couldn’t come back from it. We are an undersized group and have a pretty small line, but I was very pleased with this performance.”

After the Hawks and Indians exchanged turnovers on the first two drives of the game, Woodland executed its most impressive offensive series of the season, marching 92 yards down the field in six minutes, 53 seconds for the game’s first score.

The drive was highlighted by a pair of fourth-down conversions—an 11-yard completion on fourth-and-5 from senior quarterback Steve Petracca to senior wide receiver Colin Grommisch, and a 5-yard scamper on fourth-and-1 by DeBiase—leading to a 1-yard touchdown on a pitch to the left for DeBiase. Senior Brandon Fowler salvaged a botched snap on the PAT and found DeBiase through the air for the two-point conversion.

Woodland wasted an opportunity on its next drive when Fowler just missed a 32-yard field goal set up by a 39-yard run by senior wingback Tyler Slapikas. Watertown later managed its first score of the half after a fumble by DeBiase, which set up a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 8-6 at the half.

The second half, though, belonged to the Black and Gold. Following a monumental fourth-and-1 defensive stop in Watertown territory, DeBiase took a pitch 30 yards for his second score of the night to widen the advantage to 15-6.

The Indians resorted to the aerial game, which played right into the hands of Fowler and the Woodland secondary. The senior captain picked two passes from Matt Quatrano at Woodland’s 10- and 26-yard lines, thwarting scoring threats and allowing junior Chris D’Occhio to punch in a 1-yard touchdown with 10:17 left in the game to put an exclamation mark on the game. The Indians were gifted a passing touchdown as time expired, but it was too little, too late, for the Hawks had sealed an important bounce-back victory, 22-12.

“This week, we put the onus on the seniors to carry the load for us,” Shea explained, “and they did a really good job. We knew that if we could stop the run early, we would be able to beat them by making them pass, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Woodland now faces its most important game of the season to-date when it revisits Municipal Stadium Friday night for a pivotal matchup with Copper Division rival Holy Cross. The Crusaders are one of two undefeated teams in the Naugatuck Valley League and are coming off a 19-0 shutout win over Torrington.

“It should be a good matchup,” Shea said. “Our guys are pretty familiar with Holy Cross. In my opinion, them and Wolcott are the one-two in the league, so it won’t be easy, but I’m confident in our team.”