Hawks squander late lead

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BEACON FALLS — Big plays by opponents in the second half this season have been Woodland’s nemeses. See last Saturday’s 31-22 loss to Wolcott for evidence.

The Hawks squandered a fourth-quarter lead by allowing two, long, game-breaking passes by Mike Nicol to Pat Byrne to effectively quash Woodland’s Class S playoff hopes.

The first big play came in the fourth as the Eagles faced a third-and-19 at their own 45 after a sack of Nicol by Dave Alves. Nicol hit Byrne on a 35-yard fade down the right sideline to extend the drive. Two plays later, Adam Santopietro scored on a 2-yard pitch to give Wolcott a 24-22 lead.

“I saw it was cover two,” Byrne said. “I told Coach Corny [Joe Cornelio] that we should run a fade and he believed me. He had trust. Nicol delivered a great ball.”

“I just thought we had to follow them [after they scored],” Nicol said. “You can’t tuck your tail. You have to keep going.”

After Woodland’s ensuing drive ended in a fumble, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-9 at the Hawks’ 31. Again, Nicol hit Byrne on a long pass, but this time it was in the end zone.

“I got really lucky with it,” Nicol admitted. “I saw him going down the sideline and just threw it up there. He came down with it and made a big play.”

Tom Bochicchio’s extra point—the Eagles’ only conversion of the day—put the game out of reach at 31-22 with 3:23 to play.

Woodland coach Tim Shea saw the Eagles make the bigger plays and fewer mistakes.

“They out-executed us in key times of the game,” Shea said. “We played not a very good first half, a much better second half, but we had too many mistakes that they capitalized upon. That’s what good teams do.”

Woodland trailed from the get-go but pulled to within 12-7 on Matt Zaccagnini’s first touchdown run of the day, a 4-yarder late in the second quarter. However, a 65-yard touchdown pass from Nicol to Jason Matos on the next offensive play made it an 18-7 game at the half.

But the Hawks rallied by scoring 15 unanswered points to begin the fourth quarter. Zaccagnini, who ran 36 times for a game-high 248 yards, scored from 8 yards out early in the fourth period to make it an 18-15 game.

Woodland forced a fumble on the ensuing drive and Zaccagnini came up with a huge third-down conversion on a pitch that went for 44 yards and a touchdown for a 22-18 lead.

After Woodland’s go-ahead touchdown, Woodland tried to squib the ensuing kickoff but it was recovered on the front line by the Eagles at the Hawks’ 46-yard line.

“We just tried to kick it on the ground,” Shea said. “They weren’t onside kicks at all. They just didn’t go through the hole. We just didn’t want to kick it deep and have a big return.”

Shea wasn’t sure if the short week, in which Woodland had to recover from its game against Holy Cross on Monday while Wolcott had extra days off, affected the outcome.

“The last few weeks, we haven’t had a consistent week at all,” Shea said. “This week, they had four more days to prepare. I don’t know if that mattered, but it’s tough. Now we’re going to see what we’re made of.”

The Hawks will try to salvage a winning season on Thanksgiving eve against Seymour.