Hawks hold heads high after loss in Class S quarterfinals

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Woodland’s Nathan Bodnar (3) runs after a catch as Sheehan’s Jason Villano (23) and Riley Bjornberg (16) chase after him during a Class S quarterfinal game Dec. 4 at Sheehan High School in Wallingford. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WALLINGFORD — Looking up at the scoreboard on Sheehan High’s turf field Wednesday night and seeing the score didn’t feel good. Nobody in black and gold wanted to see 51-0, especially not in the Class S quarterfinals.

But shortly after No. 4-seeded Sheehan knocked No. 5 Woodland out of the playoffs, the Hawks wanted to reflect on another successful season.

“I’m definitely proud of the kids,” Woodland coach Chris Moffo said. “This is a great group of seniors. I love ‘em. I wish we had more time together. They set the bar high and they did a great job. They worked at it. They’re a great group of young men. They’re hurting now for what happened. It sucks.”

It was a rout almost from the opening kickoff. Sheehan (9-2), which slogged through a tough Southern Connecticut Conference schedule, forced a punt on Woodland’s opening series. Two plays later, Terrence Bogan unleashed a 69-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 with only 1:55 off the clock.

An interception set up another touchdown only 32 seconds later. A botched punt led to a third score at the 7:41 mark. It didn’t stop until the clock went into running time throughout the second half. It wasn’t a pretty way for a season to end.

“(Bogan) put us in hole right off the rip,” Moffo said. “Then the bad snap and bobbled punt — that didn’t help either. It just snowballed. Sheehan is a tremendous football team, and they got the best of us tonight.”

Woodland sophomore two-way star Jason Palmieri knew his team ran into a buzz saw — one that has a great shot to take down Ansonia in the semifinals Monday night and perhaps make a run at a state championship next weekend.

But he also knew that the Hawks (9-2) accomplished much more this fall than a playoff blowout would suggest.

“This game does not define us,” Palmieri said. “This game doesn’t define how hard our team worked this season. This just wasn’t our night. Sheehan is a very good football team. We will learn from this game. We’re a very young team. We will fill in for the (graduating) seniors, and we’ll improve and get better. We’ll definitely be back here (in the playoffs next season).”

Woodland’s Jason Palmieri (8) runs with the ball along the sidelines as Sheehan’s Russell Rutkowski (22) comes in on defense during a Class S quarterfinal game Dec. 4 at Sheehan High School in Wallingford. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Palmieri was one of several sophomores and juniors who made major impacts this season as the Hawks reached the playoffs for the second straight year — and eighth time in 18 varsity years.

Nate Bodnar, Joe DeDomenico and Nick Rousseau will also return as skill players, while linemen Justin Petta and Josh Gibson, tight end Mike Bunce, linebackers Brett Barrett, Ben Brooks and Jay D’Angelo, kicker Angelo Kollcinaku and punter Brayden Curtin will all come back.

“Next season, the kids who started this year will be veterans,” Moffo said. “But they know that they will have their work cut out for them. The graduating seniors who played key roles need to be replaced and (the returning players are) ready for that. They now know what it takes to get here and get to the next level. The experience we have coming back is huge. We have to refine things on defense based on the knowledge that we already have and retool.”

Among the key graduation departures will be quarterback Tyler Bulinski, who ended his career as the school’s second-winningest quarterback with 23 victories, linemen Alek Tolboe, Ryan Knobel and Collin Lacy, and receiver-defensive back James Champagne.

“We’re leaving behind a strong legacy and turned around the program,” Bulinski said. “Everyone had a goal and a mindset to get better and win. The last two seasons have definitely been special and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Bulinski also admitted that he’s excited to see what his teammates can accomplish next fall.

“We’re graduating some key players, but I think the returning players can fill our shoes, for sure,” Bulinski said. “On the bus ride home, you could hear how motivated and excited the players are to get back in the weight room and work hard in the offseason and get back on track. I love that.”

The Republican-American contributed to this report.