BEACON FALLS — In the land of football metaphors, it’s called the Hail Mary. From now on at Woodland, it’s simply referred to as Tanner being Kingsley.
With 2 minutes, 41 seconds to play and Derby clinging to a 27-26 lead, the Hawks faced fourth-and-25 at their own 40 with the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division championship on the line.
Kingsley wound up and threw the money ball 45 yards down field, where it fell into the arms of Mike Kenney. He slipped between a pair of Red Raiders defenders and took it the final 20 yards into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown in the Hawks’ 32-27 victory.
“There’s not a whole lot of plays in the book for a fourth-and-25,” Woodland coach Tim Shea smiled. “But Tanner threw it up there and Mike went up after it and it paid off for us. As long as there is time on the clock, this team believes they can get it done. Derby played a great game and they came up with a couple of stops but we made the one play at the end to pull it out.”
On the ensuing drive, Derby drove deep into Woodland territory and reached the Hawks’ 25-yard line. But the Red Raiders stalled as Will Flormann came up with a sack, Mike Lang knocked down a pass at the 10 and Jake Laliberte hit Derby quarterback Michael Kreiger to force a fourth-down incompletion.
After Woodland (9-1) secured a 20-7 lead in the second period, the Red Raiders reeled off three unanswered touchdowns to take a 27-20 lead in the third.
Ricky Bartone barreled in from 14 yards out on the first drive of the second half to break a 20-20 halftime tie and give Derby the advantage. Just before the start of the fourth quarter, Sean McAllen came up with an interception of Kreiger and the Hawks capitalized.
Kingsley hooked up with Joe Poeta (six catches, 67 yards) on a 16-yard scoring strike, but Derby blocked the extra point to keep a 27-26 lead. The Woodland defense rose to the occasion again late in the fourth, stopping the Red Raiders on fourth-and-1 at the Hawks’ 13-yard line.
“It could have gone either way,” Shea said. “They were making plays, we were making plays and then in the last few possessions of the game it came down to the defenses.”
In the first-ever meeting between the Valley opponents, the Hawks struck first when Kingsley (19-of 27, 311 yards, three touchdowns) dumped a pass into the arms of Taylor Tucciarone for a 49-yard score. The extra point was off the mark and Woodland had to settle for a 6-0 advantage after the first drive of the game.
Derby scored on its first possession when Kreiger (94 rushing yards) took it into the end zone converting on a fourth-and-1. Sal Frosceno booted the extra point to put the Red Raiders out in front, 7-6, with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
The tide turned when Chris McDonald recovered a Derby fumble two plays after a Woodland punt. McAllen (27 carries, 213 yards) broke the plane of the end zone on a 9-yard burst and Flormann split the uprights for a 13-7 Hawks advantage.
After the Woodland defense forced Derby into a turnover on downs, McAllen went to work again and came within one tackle of hitting pay dirt, churning up 21 yards down the sidelines. On the next play, McAllen outraced the Derby defense 44 yards into the end zone to open up a 20-7 lead with eight minutes left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff Tyler Dobek returned it 25 yards into Woodland territory. Kreiger found Frosceno in stride for a 48-yard touchdown to close the gap. Just before the half ended, Bartone (15 rushes, 101 yards) bounced off a few tacklers to get it down to the goal line and Kreiger finished it off for a 3-yard plunge to tie the game at 20-all.
Woodland’s Copper title is its second straight, and the Hawks will face Ansonia on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury for the NVL title. They also sewed up a Class S playoff berth with the win over Derby and have a chance at a home quarterfinal with a win over Seymour on Thanksgiving eve.