BEACON FALLS — Woodland thought its run defense was good Nov. 29 against Seymour. The Hawks’ encore in the Class S quarterfinals was even better.
No. 4-seeded Woodland held Morgan running back Jake Ward to only 81 yards — a third of his season average — and racked up more than 500 yards of total offense as the Hawks routed the No. 5 Huskies 47-21 Tuesday night.
Woodland (11-2) advances to the Class S semifinals to face No. 8 Bloomfield (10-2), which upset top-seeded Capital Prep, on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Wolcott.
Ward entered the game as the state’s second leading rusher with 2,494 yards in 11 games — an average of more than 226 yards per outing. Linebacker Levi Fancher and the rest of the Hawks’ defense limited Morgan to only 85 rushing yards as a team.
“We definitely knew that he was a good running back, so we prepared to shut him down,” Fancher said. “Our goal is to be lights-out every week, and we were again tonight.”
The Hawks used momentum gained in last Friday’s 22-19 win over run-heavy Seymour. Woodland allowed just 2 second-half rushing yards as it pulled away down the stretch.
“I was really confident,” Woodland safety Coby Vaccarelli said. “Our defense played great against Seymour, and we did the same thing tonight. We shut them down.”
It was a wire-to-wire lead for the Hawks, who went ahead 7-0 with 4:58 to play in the first on a 10-yard run by Sean McAllen. Morgan responded with a drive inside Woodland’s 25, but Fancher blew up a fourth-and-12 toss to Ward for a 6-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
“That was huge for us,” Fancher said. “They were close to the red zone and we stopped them, so it gave us a lot of momentum. And it gave the offense some confidence to make a drive.”
That’s exactly what quarterback Tanner Kingsley did, leading an 11-play drive over 4 ½ minutes that ended in a 9-yard shovel pass touchdown to Fancher. Woodland led 14-0 with 10:12 left in the second quarter.
The Hawks’ offense rolled all night, scoring on seven of their 10 drives and amassing 521 yards of total offense — something they had only done twice this season.
“We had to get the monkey off our back,” said Kingsley, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 261 yards. “We had been scoring points, but we weren’t rolling like we were at the beginning of the year. Tonight we came out and had so many good drives. We threw the ball excellent, we ran the ball excellent and the line blocked great.”
Woodland coach Tim Shea said the short week may have actually helped the offense settle back into a groove. The Hawks had an almost even split between passing yards (261) and rushing yards (260).
“We went back to basics in a lot of areas,” Shea said. “We really only had one work day, so we went back to basics in running patterns and everything.”
Morgan and Woodland traded scores throughout the second quarter. Huskies quarterback Alex Lipka tossed a pair of touchdowns to Gary Forbes and Ward, and McAllen scored on the ground for the Hawks.
The momentum swung permanently toward Woodland late in the second, when Morgan’s Mateo Zumpano muffed a punt and Jake Pinho recovered. The Hawks needed just three plays to score on Vaccarelli’s 1-yard run to make it a 27-13 game at the half.
Vaccarelli took over in the second half for McAllen, who left the game with concussion-like symptoms and has an unknown status for this weekend. Vaccarelli carried nine times for 54 yards after the break, including bruising touchdown runs of 7 and 2 yards to help Woodland pull away.
“Coach Shea always says that when a man goes down, someone has to step in,” said Vaccarelli, who also picked off a pass in the second half. “I knew that was me, and I just did it for Sean and Jack (knee injury).”
“Coby stepped up big,” said Kingsley, whose 109 career touchdown passes have him three away from tying the state record. “He and Sean both pound the rock hard. Every pass seemed like it went to the 1-yard line tonight, so Coby did a great job of punching it in.”
Woodland will play in the Class S semifinals for the second year in a row and will look to make the final for the first time since 2005. The championships will be next weekend at Central Connecticut State University.
“This is the kind of effort we need every time,” Vaccarelli said. “If we do this again, we have a great shot at making the state finals.”