BEACON FALLS — The game had the hype. Boy, did it measure up.
Woodland used a precision passing attack and an unexpectedly strong defense to outlast Naugatuck, 25-22, before an emotional crowd of 2,000 in the first annual George Pinho Memorial Trophy game.
The award is named after the Naugatuck native and Woodland coach who passed away unexpectedly in January. George’s son, Jack, accepted the trophy from George’s brother, Tony, after the game and showed it off to hundreds of students clad in black.
“It’s home,” Jack Pinho said of the trophy. “It’s where it belongs.”
The same went for the victory, which Woodland (4-0) earned with a stout defensive effort to complement its reliable offense. The combination was enough to knock off Naugatuck (3-1) and take control of the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division.
The Hawks forced four punts — including a failed fake punt and one that never got off with a botched snap — and three turnovers on downs. They held the Greyhounds to 94 rushing yards and forced Naugy quarterback Jason Bradley to miss on 23 of his 39 attempts, many of which were deep heaves.
“We went with different groupings and played some two man under,” Pinho said. “We just had to make sure we contained Bradley. Coach (Chris) Moffo did such a great job coaching us all week, and he deserves all the credit.”
The two most important stops Woodland made came in the second half, minutes after Tanner Kingsley hooked up with Taylor Tucciarone for a 6-yard touchdown pass and an 18-16 lead.
With the Greyhounds driving inside the red zone, the Hawks forced a turnover on downs to take over at their own 16. They squandered the scoring chance on a fumble by Sean McAllen at the Naugy 14, but Woodland held for a three-and-out. Bradley couldn’t handle a low snap on the punt and Will Flormann caught Bradley at the 7-yard line to set up a first-and-goal opportunity.
“I thought we moved the ball well but we got jammed up near the goal lines,” Naugatuck coach Craig Bruno said. “We both played a good game. We made a few mistakes we usually don’t make, but that’s football and they’re a good football team.”
Three plays after the failed punt, Kingsley snuck under center Alex Varhol and scored. Flormann’s PAT kick gave the Hawks a 25-16 lead with 8:02 remaining.
“That play came from halftime,” Kingsley said of his 3-yard scoring sneak. “I told Coach (Tim) Phipps what kind of looks I was getting on the goal line and he had faith in me to get the ball into the end zone.”
On the ensuing drive, the Hawks forced another turnover on downs when the 5-foot-8 McAllen locked down the 6-foot-5 Ryne Griesenauer for a fourth-down incompletion.
“I saw his height and I was a little shaken because I had never covered a wide receiver like that,” said McAllen, who held Naugy’s leading wideout to just three catches. “I knew if I covered him well and jumped for the ball I’d be OK.”
McAllen, a sophomore, also excelled on offense with 168 total yards. Seventy-five of those yards came on a pair of middle screens in the second half that kept Woodland drives alive.
“He’s our guy,” Woodland coach Tim Shea said. “Sean isn’t afraid to make a play. Our screen game has gotten better over the years. A spread draws the blitz, and the screen game helped to keep them back.”
Kingsley settled with short passes most of the night, going 31-of-41 for 302 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Mike Kenney for a 9-yard touchdown in the first quarter and struck Pinho for an 11-yard score late in the second to give Woodland a 12-8 halftime lead.
“They didn’t really allow us to get the ball deep downfield because their corners were playing 10 yards off the line,” said Kingsley, who connected with six receivers. “We were going to abuse them with the short passes and grind it out.”
Tom Douty scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bradley with 1:35 remaining to cut Woodland’s lead to 25-22, but the Hawks’ Chris McDonald recovered the ensuing onside kick and effectively ended the game.
Woodland puts its unbeaten record on the line Saturday in another Copper Division test at St. Paul, while Naugatuck looks to rebound Friday night at Torrington.