BEACON FALLS — After the second-worst season in program history, the Woodland gridiron gang is looking for any way possible to show that it is ready to compete once again for another Naugatuck Valley League championship. How about scrimmaging one of the top five teams in the state?
That’s why the Hawks hosted a three-way contest last week between themselves, North Haven, and Hamden, predicted by many to be a top-five caliber team this year. While scores don’t particularly matter in the preseason—but in case you’re wondering, Hamden beat Woodland, 14-0, while the Hawks tied North Haven, 7-7—the jamboree-type setting gave the Black and Gold a chance to test its strengths and get a feel for what 2009 might bring.
The Woodland offense started off slowly, but gradually built up steam. On its first drive against Hamden, the Hawks managed just one first down, due in part to several botched center-quarterback exchanges, a fumbled handoff between senior quarterback Steve Petracca and senior wingback Brandon Fowler, and a fast Hamden defense. Nevertheless, Petracca managed a few short completions and scrambled for his squad’s only first down. But the Dragons’ offense stole the show, scoring touchdowns on each of its first two drives.
“We told the kids we didn’t really care about the score today,” Woodland head coach Tim Shea said. “We knew how good Hamden was and weren’t expecting to shut them down. But we were looking for the guys to execute and play with intensity. We can’t expect our X’s and O’s to be perfect yet, but we’re looking to adjust.”
The Hawks’ second drive on Hamden found them situated inside the Hamden 10-yard-line, after covering 60 yards on the ground, but the 10-play series limit imposed during the scrimmage arrived before Woodland could punch in a score.
Woodland found more success against North Haven. Petracca opened up the series with an interception on a short out-route, but Fowler picked him up soon afterward, springing a 60-yard burst down the left sideline to set up his team near the 10.
Junior tailback Jack DeBiase took a handoff up the middle, meeting a host of North Haven tacklers near the line of scrimmage. But he drove the pile yard-by-yard, and even as more tacklers piled on, DeBiase continued to push the huddle until he was finally taken down around the 3. Petracca took advantage of the run by flicking a short screen pass to senior wideout Colin Grommisch for a touchdown.
“Some things we did well today, and other things with did badly,” Shea noted. “We can’t settle. Our goals are a little different this year than they have been in the past. We want to be better than last year, get better every week, and hopefully we can get a little luck and something can happen for us. We can be in a position to play for the Copper Division.”
The injury bug has also bitten the Hawks this preseason, actually forcing them to cancel a scrimmage against Hand and Waterford. But Shea says his team is healing up and will be ready.
“We had a couple head and knee injuries in the past few weeks because we’ve been going hard in practice. Sometimes, injuries can be good, though, because you get other guys ready to play behind them.”
Those backups will be ready, but it’s a fairly experienced core of players that will make or break this season. Aside from the high-profile playmakers, Woodland will look for contributions from senior wingback Tyler Slapikas, senior linebacker James Bedard, junior wingback/linebacker Chris D’Occhio, and senior linemen Mike Uszakiewicz, Mike Diurno, Ben Bonito, Payten Gallagher, and Jim Hart.
After Thursday’s opener against Putnam, the Hawks travel to Municipal Stadium Sept. 26 in an effort to exact revenge on defending Copper champion Kennedy before their home opener Oct. 2 vs. Wolcott.