BEACON FALLS — If the Woodland football team proved one thing with its season-opening victory over Branford, it was this: Everybody can relax. The Hawks are still the Hawks.
All-State quarterback Tanner Kingsley completed 13 of 19 passes for 227 yards and five touchdowns — three to Mike Kenney and two to Dylan Abarzua — as Woodland rolled over the Hornets, 44-19, in a game delayed by thunderstorms to last Friday afternoon.
Kenney and Abarzua led a largely new wide receivers group, one which only returned one starter in Jack Pinho. Sixth-year Woodland coach Tim Shea said Kingsley’s leadership has contributed in large part to the growth of the new receivers.
“Tan’s been great,” Shea said. “I sat him down in springs and said, ‘We graduated a lot of guys, so we need you to be the guy who brings them along.’ These guys were rusty, but once they got better at running routes things would come together. He took on the leadership role.”
Kingsley found Kenney on a fade route in the first quarter for a 27-yard touchdown. The Hawks — apparently more comfortable not kicking PATs — converted the first of four two-point conversions on a Coby Vaccarelli run to make it an 8-0 game.
After Branford scored later in the quarter to make it 8-6, Woodland established a firm lead in the second quarter. Kingsley hit Abarzua with a 30-yard touchdown pass for a 16-6 lead before hooking up with Kenney for a second time on a 35-yard score. The Hawks led 22-6 at halftime.
Woodland’s defense also made a splash in the first half with four sacks and a pair of interceptions. That group, which boasts eight new starters, pursued Branford quarterback Devan Hall all day and kept the Hornets from stringing together drives.
“When it came time to stop them, I knew our kids were up to the challenge,” Shea said of his defense. “At times we stepped up, and at times we needed to be better at it. Branford’s a lot better than people probably think. They didn’t have a lot of flash but their quarterback was very good and those are tough SCC kids.”
Woodland scored three more times after halftime, including two more touchdown passes by Kingsley. Kenney hauled in his third touchdown pass of the day for a 38-yard score, and the Hawks’ final score of the day came on a 22-yard connection between Kingsley and Abarzua.
All five of Kenney’s and Abarzua’s combined receptions went for touchdowns. Pinho also caught four passes for 50 yards.
“We knew all along that they had it in them,” Shea said of the wide receivers. “They were thrown into the fire a little bit during the preseason. They were expected to perform. A lot of people were banking from what they saw in the Oxford scrimmage, but we knew we were going to get a lot better.”
Woodland also established a running game with sophomores Sean McAllen and Vaccarelli. McAllen carried nine times for 107 yards and a 30-yard touchdown, and Vaccarelli racked up 81 yards on 11 attempts.
“We knew we were going to have to run the ball a little more this year,” Shea said. “If we could establish the run, a lot of things would open up because of it. I was impressed with those guys.”
Woodland continues a favorable opening part of its schedule Friday night at home against Crosby. The Hawks will hit the road Sept. 28 to face Kennedy before their first true test Oct. 4 against Naugatuck.