WOLCOTT — The most successful season in the history of youth football in the Woodland area came to an end Sunday at Wolcott High School as the Jr. Hawks Jr. Pee Wees fell 6-0 to the Mount Hope (R.I.) Cowboys in the New England semifinal.
The Jr. Hawks finished with an 11-1 overall record and won the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner championship while also becoming the first Prospect-Beacon Falls Pop Warner team to ever win the Connecticut Pop Warner title and advance to regional play.
“The kids really came out and worked hard all season,” head coach Ernie Jordan said.
“They really did a good job all year. They played hard and gave it everything they had. We just came up a little short today.”
Woodland twice came oh-so-close to tying the game in the final four minutes of the game thanks to the outstanding performance of quarterback Tyler Arbuckle.
After forcing a turnover on downs at the Mount Hope 48-yard line with 3:46 to play, Arbuckle hooked up with Chad Vincent on a 12-yard pass. On the next play, Arbuckle threw a 21-yard bomb to Kyle Searles down to the Mount Hope 14.
But after a holding penalty and a pair of short gains, Arbuckle was sacked on 4th-and-12 to give the Cowboys the ball back with less than two minutes to go.
The Jr. Hawks defense held firmly, though, forcing a turnover on downs of its own to give Arbuckle and the Woodland offense one more chance with the ball at the Mount Hope 32 and 1:19 left.
Arbuckle struck again on the first play of the drive, launching a pass 20 yards to Searles, who made an incredible catch off a deflection while falling backward to the ground to set up a 1st-and-10 at the Mount Hope 12.
That was as close as Woodland got, though, as an illegal procedure penalty and the Cowboys’ defense clamped down, intercepting the final pass of the game to seal the win.
It was evident, though, that Arbuckle was the star of the game.
“Tyler is incredible, especially for being 10 years old,” Jordan said. “He throws the ball better than any quarterback I’ve had yet; he throws easily 30 or 35 yards in the air. Not only is he so good at throwing the ball, but he’s one of our hardest hitters and our best linebacker. He’s a great player.”
Arbuckle led the Jr. Hawks’ defense to an outstanding performance, as Mount Hope’s only score of the game came early in the second quarter when Woodland botched a punt snap as it was pinned deep in its own territory. Two plays later, Cowboys running back Jermaine Moore scored a 2-yard touchdown to make it 6-0.
“I think the touchdown was my fault,” Jordan said. “I called the punt and we hadn’t punted all year. The first time I call a punt, it goes over the punter’s head and gives them the chance to score. Other than that, our defense was stout. They stepped up and played hard.”
The defense was also powered by the hard hitting of Sean McKeown and others, while Tyler Rudolph and Joel Guzman added good gains on offense. The Woodland lines played well on both sides, led by Joe Kmetz, Bobby Hames, Scott Lawrence, Thomas Faryniarz, Peter Martonick, and several others.
While the Jr. Hawks won’t be playing for the New England championship this weekend, the greatness of their season wasn’t lost on Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield.
“The towns of Prospect and Beacon Falls are very proud of you,” Chatfield told the team in the postgame huddle. “No team has ever gotten this far and you represented us very well.”