WATERBURY – It was simple for Woodland—beat Sacred Heart last Thursday at Municipal Stadium and the Hawks would actually be the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division champs and would face Ansonia for the NVL title.
Too bad for Woodland, beating the Hearts was much easier said than done. Sacred Heart capitalized on two crucial turnovers by the Hawks and Hearts quarterback Rohan Ifill ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns to upset Woodland, 30-27, and leave the door open for Naugatuck to win the division title with a 24-13 win over Holy Cross Friday.
In a game of many big plays, none was bigger than Ifill’s forced fumble to prevent a potential game-winning touchdown for Woodland with under two minutes to go.
On third-and-8 from the Sacred Heart 18, Jack DeBiase dropped back and found Rahmi Rountree open over the middle. Rountree dashed to his right toward the end zone, but just before he went down, Ifill knocked the ball loose at the 2-yard line. The Hearts recovered in the end zone, all but sealing the game.
“He was heading toward the goal line and I came up from behind him,” Ifill said of the play. “I came up from behind the ball and hoped it came out. I didn’t even know until I saw my teammates on it in the end zone.”
“He tried to make something happen and he dropped the ball,” Woodland coach Tim Shea said of Rountree’s effort. “That’s football. You can’t pin any one thing on why you win or why you lose. Rahmi had some big plays all night and he was trying to get into the end zone.”
The turnover stopped a Woodland drive in response to Ifill’s third rushing touchdown of the night on the previous series, a 6-yard run up the middle to put the Hearts ahead, 30-27.
“I just knew my team needed a big play,” Ifill said. “I was able to take advantage of their defense.”
Ifill’s run stopped a furious wave of momentum for the Hawks, who had rallied from 11 points down to take a 27-24 lead with 7:37 to go.
“They made plays when they had to,” Shea said. “Ifill is a phenomenal athlete. They made one or two more plays than we did.”
Woodland was put in the hole by a 55-yard interception-return touchdown by Dwyane Ellis, who weaved his way in and out of traffic before blowing down the right sideline for the score to make it 24-13.
Ellis’ pick-six came just minutes after Ifill punched in a 1-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the second half to put the Hearts ahead. After the touchdown, though, there was chaos as a fight broke out in the end zone.
A late push by Eric Collodel on Ifill drew retaliation from the Hearts and David Coggins, who was ejected for his role in the melee. Fortunately for both teams, all players on the sidelines remained there and cooler heads eventually prevailed.
After the fight and pick-six, DeBiase sparked a Woodland comeback. 8-yard touchdown run early in the fourth period cut the deficit to 24-19 before helped his defense force a three-and-out. On the next series, he hooked up with Rountree for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 27-24.
The Hawks couldn’t stay ahead, though, squandering their chance to seal the NVL Copper crown—again. Woodland had clinched the Copper in the Nov. 5 win over Naugatuck, but the title was taken away amidst confusion among the league’s athletic directors last week. Shea said he’s not sure if emotions over the division title played a role in the loss.
“I would like to say no, but when you deal with 14- to 18-year-olds, who knows,” he said. “It’s our job as coaches to keep them pretty even-keeled. It’s our job to make sure they’re ready to go and I think they were.”
Both the Hearts and the Hawks are very alive in the Class S playoff hunt. The latest projections show that at least one of the two teams, and very possibly both, will qualify if there is a slight bit of help among rival contenders. Check mycitizensnews.com for continuous playoff updates.