New-look Hawks off to 2-0 start

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BEACON FALLS — The start to the football season may not have been the prettiest at times, but new-look Woodland is off to a 2-0 start for the second straight year.

After an 18-8 victory over Torrington in the home-opener Sept. 13 in which the Hawks struggled to put away the pesky Red Raiders until late in the fourth quarter, Woodland rebounded for a 54-12 victory over Wilby Sept. 19.

With a slew of first-year starters on both sides of the ball and a few early-season injuries to first-string players, Woodland’s leadership was proud to come away with a pair of victories to start the year.

“With a lot of guys hurt, it’s crazy how we can put guys in there who don’t really have a lot of experience and they can come in and make plays for us,” said Woodland senior lineman Alek Tolboe, a co-captain. “It’s a team effort. It’s not just the captains or the guys who are used to being here — it’s the guys who come in and step up and make plays when it counts.”

In the opener against Torrington, the Hawks’ offense — which moved its base style to the spread for the first time since 2013 — spent most of the game searching for its rhythm.

Although they played ahead for most of the game, thanks to Tyler Bulinski’s 42-yard touchdown pass to James Champagne in the first quarter, the Hawks found themselves facing an 8-7 deficit early in the fourth quarter as the result of a turnover.

On the ensuing drive, Woodland cruised inside the red zone and Bulinski found Jason Palmieri for a 5-yard touchdown hookup. Bulinski hit Mike Bunce for the conversion to make it 15-8, and after a takeaway on the next drive, Angelo Kollcinaku kicked a 32-yard field goal to ice the game.

Woodland’s defense earned the credit in the opener, coming away with five takeaways — including two interceptions by Palmieri and one by Joe DeDomenico — to make up for the offensive struggles, which also included a couple of turnovers.

“We know our offense can put up points,” Tolboe said. “We didn’t really show that (in Week 1) as well as we would have liked to, but our defense came up with huge turnovers when we needed them.”

Palmieri finished with 14 carries for 77 yards and six receptions for 83 yards. Bulinski was 15-of-22 passing for 172 yards and added six carries for 42 yards.

Palmieri, a sophomore two-way player, said the Hawks learned an important lesson in the opener.

“We learned to always stay positive,” Palmieri said. “I had two fumbles and it looked like (Torrington) would have some momentum, but we stepped up.”

There were no such issues in Week 2 against Wilby. Palmieri ran for three scores, Bulinski added two more, and Ben Brooks, Matt Gunnison and Darren Gasparri each found the end zone in a game that saw a running clock for the second half.

The Hawks are in the midst of a three-game road trip that should provide a couple of decent tests over the next two weeks. They will face Derby at DeFilippo Field this Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a trip to Wolcott on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m.