BEACON FALLS — Jason Hicks had never batted down a pass. Edit Krivca had recovered only two career fumbles. And Woodland’s current group of seniors had never beaten Seymour.
But Hicks’ and Krivca’s defensive efforts in the fourth quarter reversed a three-year losing streak to the Wildcats and lifted the Hawks to a 14-12 win over their rivals before a crowd of about 1,000 at frigid and blustery Woodland on Thanksgiving eve.
Woodland (9-1) beat Seymour (6-4) for the first time since 2014 and tied up the holiday series at eight wins apiece. The Hawks earned the fifth seed in the Class S playoffs and will visit No. 4 Bloomfield (9-1) in the Class S quarterfinals Tuesday for their first playoff appearance in five years.
Seymour had multiple chances to pull even with or ahead of the Hawks. The last of those opportunities came on the Wildcats’ final drive, which brought them to the Woodland 37 with a little more than a minute to play. Seymour had no problems gashing their way from its own 30 with chunks of 5 or 6 yards at a time.
“‘Don’t allow the big play. Don’t allow the big play,’” Woodland coach Chris Moffo said about his thoughts during that final drive. “They’re a very good team, and I thought our kids were in the right positions and made the plays when it counted.”
On first down at the 37, Tyler Ganim cut back a run to the middle and lost control of the ball on a hit by Woodland’s Joe Shea. Krivca, a senior linebacker, pounced on the ball to seal the win.
“There was me and a Seymour offensive lineman going for it,” said Krivca, who also led Woodland with 20 carries for 100 yards. “I was like, OK, I want this ball more than you do.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had a chance to tie the game after Jonathan Dumas hit Jacob Carfo for a 40-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-10. But Hicks batted down the ensuing two-point conversion pass to preserve a 14-12 lead.
“I started going after the quarterback because I wanted to sack him,” said Hicks, the defensive end who said it was the first time he’d ever gotten his hand on a pass. “I saw his arm go up and there was no way I was going to get to the quarterback in time, so I was just going to jump in the air, put my hands up, and hopefully something happened.”
Woodland freshman Jason Palmieri starred in the first half of his first Thanksgiving eve game. After Brett Barrett recovered a fumble by Dumas, Palmieri dashed deep and snatched a 48-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bulinski. It gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead with 22 seconds left in the first quarter.
Ganim cut Woodland’s lead to 7-6 with a 5-yard touchdown run early in the second period, but Palmieri responded again with a 2-yard touchdown run on a pitch from Bulinski to extend the Hawks’ lead to 14-6.
Palmieri finished the first half with 107 total yards. He added 10 rushing yards in the second half.
“We lean on him more and more every week,” Moffo said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and he understands the game.”
“It’s so great to know that the future of the program is in good hands with the coaches and raw talents such as (Palmieri),” Krivca said. “I think this program is going to be led in a good direction once we’re gone with guys like Jason.”
Woodland’s James Champagne preserved the Hawks’ halftime lead by wrestling away an interception from Ganim at the 1-yard line with 3 ticks remaining. Woodland stopped three Seymour drives with takeaways.
“The difference was we were able to take the ball away,” Moffo said. “If we don’t come up with the ball on those couple of stops, they’re either scoring or driving.”
With a victory over Bloomfield in the Class S quarterfinals, Woodland would advance to the semifinals — likely a rematch with top-seeded Ansonia on Dec. 2 at Jarvis Stadium. The state finals are set for Dec. 8 at neutral sites.