By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
This is the fifth story of a series commemorating anniversaries of significant moments in local sports history. This story looks at the 15-year anniversary of the Woodland High football team’s back-to-back Naugatuck Valley League and state championships.
Shane Kingsley didn’t hesitate when asked if he wanted to share some memories of his 2005 Woodland High football team that completed a run of back-to-back Naugatuck Valley League and state championships.
“I would love to,” Kingsley wrote in a text message. “Nobody ever talks about that team!”
That might be true, although probably unintentional. The 2004 squad gets most of the love for its historic championship run, and almost everybody on the 2005 roster somehow shared in the previous year’s success. But the competitive edge of the guys who pulled off the repeat is still sharp.
“That 2005 group actually wanted to prove to the members of the 2004 team, like, ‘We’re pretty good, too,’” former head coach Chris Anderson said. “That 2004 team was an amazing team, but the 2005 team used that little edge to prove themselves to their peers. I let them ride with that. If that was going to motivate them, then I’ll take it.”
The 2005 squad’s journey started mere hours after the 2004 Class SS state championship victory over Holy Cross.
“After we won the state championship, Alex Dorosh (then a sophomore backup quarterback) proclaimed in the weight room when we got back, ‘We’re going to do this again next year.’ I was thinking, hey, take it easy bud,” Kingsley recalled with a laugh. “But we knew we had a lot of guys who paid their dues. We kinda knew that we had five guys with the captains (Kingsley, Jeff Jones, Mike Stankus and Jeff Temple) and Rich (Roberts). Alex was a competitor, and I knew we’d be OK at quarterback. We had guys — Anthony Cassetti, Paul Brewer, Davys Daluz — they were so ready to play and had been waiting so long.”
As preparations for the season began, Anderson framed the year differently than the one prior. This time, Woodland wouldn’t be able to take teams by surprise with its high-powered spread offense.
“We made T-shirts with a target and bull’s eye on the back because we knew teams were gunning for us,” Anderson said. “We knew teams would adapt to us so we knew we had to change over the offseason. We made some adjustments and we saw adjustments teams were making. We knew defensively they would go into a 3-3 stack as the en vogue spread defense, so we researched how to go against that.”
The Hawks jumped out to an 8-0 start to the 2005 season and welcomed Ansonia to the Woods in Week 9. Woodland raced out to a 28-14 halftime lead and hung on for a 35-28 victory thanks to a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter. Dorosh was 20-of-26 passing for 328 yards and three touchdowns with a rushing score, and Kingsley caught seven passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
“You don’t see too often that any team beats Ansonia two years in a row,” Anderson said, recalling how those Chargers finished the next two seasons as the No. 1-ranked team in the state. “That was surreal.”
The most memorable moment of the season came the following week in the NVL championship game against Holy Cross at Seymour High. The rematch of the previous year’s state final was tied at 7-7 in the fourth quarter when Dan Mulrooney picked off Dorosh and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7 Crusaders with 5:17 remaining. Woodland squandered the ensuing possession and gave the ball back to the Crusaders inside their own territory with less than three minutes to go.
Enter Kingsley, who came up with perhaps the most Herculean play of his career on defense.
“Coach Anderson always did a great job of having timeouts in the fourth quarter,” Kingsley said. “We called timeout on second-and-3, and I came to the sideline, and I’ll never forget, Coach (Charlie) Fowler said, ‘We’re going to find a way to win this game.’ I was thinking, you’re crazy. You could hear the ‘Holy Cross’ chant over and over, and I was sick to my stomach.
“We called an A-gap stinger,” he continued. “The guard didn’t block back, they handed the ball to (Ryan) Cashman, I punched it out, and Temple covered it. We practiced those plays, but I felt like in 2005 we continued to believe no matter the situation.”
With 29 seconds left, Dorosh hit Brewer with a 29-yard touchdown pass. Justin Hilton’s point-after kick tied the game at 14 and sent it to overtime.
“The most nervous part of that game was Justin Hilton trying to hit that extra point to send it to overtime,” said Kingsley, who was the holder. “I was thinking that I might have to pull it and run it for the win.”
In overtime, Ryan Lewis punched in the game-winning score from 3 yards out to give the Hawks the NVL title in a 21-14 win. Jones was injured late in the game but still ran for 184 yards and a score.
“We just had so much belief in our program,” Anderson said. “We were never mentally down. We never thought we were going to lose — not to be cocky or arrogant, but we worked on anticipating that adversity and moving up to a higher level. That was a remarkable game. People were leaving and people thought it was over, and we made a miracle play, but we believed in miracles.”
Woodland lost its 21-game winning streak a few days later against Seymour in a 28-20 game with Jones limited due to an ankle sprain. The Hawks still made the playoffs, though, and they rebounded with a 27-7 win at North Branford in the semifinals. That set up a meeting with Brookfield in the final at Trumbull.
“When we saw them, they were big, strong, physical, and they had been to the state final three years in a row,” Kingsley said. “I remember being at the (state finalists’ media luncheon), and Scott Lutrus had just been offered by UConn. We didn’t have any guys like that, no Division I players.”
Cassetti picked off the first pass of the game to set up Dorosh’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Will Volage on the Hawks’ first offensive play. Brookfield tied it on an interception return late in the first half, but Jones took the ensuing kickoff to the house for a 13-6 halftime lead. Jones added a 4-yard touchdown run in the third to make it 19-6, and an interception by Kingsley near the goal line inside the final minute sealed a 19-13 win.
“That was my second pick of the game,” said Kingsley, who played free safety. “I felt like they had to take a shot because the clock was winding down. Cassetti was beat on the post, so I turned and the quarterback looked right, then left, and I just went for the ball at the high point, and it was just a celebration after that.”
Fifteen years later, Anderson and Kingsley value the 2005 team’s legacy.
“The legacy was that Woodland didn’t have to be a one-trick pony,” Anderson said. “Just because we had one talented group didn’t mean we were going to be done the next year.”
“The 2004 team had been working for that for four years,” Kingsley said. “It was like a culmination of what they had all worked for. In 2005, everyone was like, ‘Are they going to be a one-hit wonder?’ The 2004 team was so talented and had unbelievable players, but what we did in 2005 I felt was a bit tougher. We graduated 26 seniors from that (2004 team), and we had five guys who ever played varsity football. To do it again, in my mind, it was even tougher.”