Hawks, Crusaders ready for battle Friday

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BEACON FALLS — “Big game.”

That’s how Woodland junior tailback Jack DeBiase bluntly described his squad’s matchup with undefeated Holy Cross Friday night at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. And DeBiase is right—it’s a big game, perhaps the most important for the Hawks since their last playoff game in 2007.

Sure, every Woodland-Holy Cross game is a big one; the two have been heated rivals ever since the Hawks trucked the Crusaders, 35-0, to win their first Class SS state championship back in 2004. This one holds a little more meaning, though, as it could be a contest that makes or breaks Woodland’s season.

“This is huge for our NVL and state playoff hopes,” DeBiase said.

Both squads are on pace to double their win totals from a year ago and find themselves jockeying for position not just in the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division, but also in the Class SS state playoff division.

The Crusaders lead the Copper with a 2-0 division record to go with their 4-0 overall mark. They also sit atop the Class SS rankings with a 130 point average. But the Hawks are right on their coattails, sitting at 1-0 in the Copper (3-1 overall) while holding on to eighth place in Class SS with an 85 point average.

To put it plainly, here’s the situation for Woodland: A loss will not only dash almost any hope of a second Copper Division crown in three years, but will also put the Hawks behind the eight ball in Class SS. Eleven schools either have one loss or are undefeated, and a second defeat could result in an insurmountable deficit in the rankings.

This is as close to a must-win situation as there can be in week five, but both the Woodland players and head coach Tim Shea have exuded calmness since their impressive, 22-12 win over Watertown last week.

“We can’t have a repeat of week three,” Shea joked. “But really we need to move the ball and get some first downs. We have to take care of the ball and the defense has to play well. It’s all basics. They have a real good team, but it’s going to be a game. It’s going to be a good game.”

In order to move the ball, one would figure the rock will be in the hands of DeBiase early and often. In Woodland’s three wins, the junior has rushed for 533 yards and nine touchdowns. During the Hawks’ loss to Wolcott, though, DeBiase only picked up 47 yards and was held out of the end zone. His keys to the game are even simpler than Shea’s, though one would think they came from Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

“We need to be warriors on the field,” DeBiase explained. “We need to keep our composure and play Woodland Hawk football. We’ve gotta put the armor on, lace ‘em up, and go to battle.”

The battlefield that will be the turf of Municipal Stadium likely won’t be in the best shape Friday night, though. Check out the forecast from WFSB.

“Periods of rain … breezy and raw. High: 38-45.”

Outstanding. The Weather Channel adds that it will feel like a brisk 29 degrees at kickoff.

Those conditions might just favor of Woodland, though. The majority of the Hawks’ offense is ground-based, as senior quarterback Steve Petracca has thrown for 273 yards and three scores.

The Crusaders not only use senior Ryan Plourde to throw (313 yards and three TDs), but he also will run the option effectively. Plourde is Cross’ leading rusher with 304 yards and two scores, but senior Pat Cronin has racked up 284 yards and five touchdowns while junior Brandon DiClementi has tallied 252 yards and two scores. With the ‘Saders aerial attack likely neutralized with the weather, the Woodland defense may be able to key in on Plourde’s ground game.

Game time is slated for 7 p.m. in Waterbury. The game will be broadcast live by WATR 1320 AM (and streaming live on www.watr.com), but game updates will also be posted in real-time on Twitter at WRHShawks.