Tough test a confidence booster for Hawks

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Mason Mastropietro (5) runs for a first down against Torrington Oct. 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — The Oct. 1 game against Torrington was the Woodland football team’s first real test of the season, and the Hawks’ scores spanned all sides of the rubric.

There was disappointment that Woodland let a fourth-quarter lead slip away in a 36-33 loss to the Raiders, dealing the Black and Gold its first loss of the season. But in other ways, there was a sense of pride in the vast improvement the Hawks (3-1) see in themselves since the preseason.

“Even though we lost, we felt good about how our team played,” said senior Nate Bodnar, the do-it-all player who caught nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns along with a 6-yard touchdown run. “We are such a young team, and to show that we can compete with Torrington, who respectably is one of the better teams in the league, was another confidence booster for us. It showed that we can compete with tough competition.”

The game was a back-and-forth affair. Bodnar scored his rushing touchdown in the first quarter to give the Hawks a 6-0 lead, and his 47-yard touchdown grab from Darren Gasparri in the second period nudged Woodland ahead again for a 12-6 advantage. Torrington regained the lead with a pair of long touchdown passes, but Gasparri hit Mason Mastropietro from 9 yards just before halftime to cut the deficit to 22-19.

Ben Brooks’ 1-yard touchdown run in the third gave Woodland a 26-22 lead entering the final period, but Torrington quarterback Tyler Semonich’s 14-yard touchdown scramble gave the Raiders back the lead for good, and he iced it with a 23-yard touchdown pass. All four of his completions went for touchdowns.

Gasparri, who went 23-of-35 passing for 263 yards, threw the last of his three touchdowns to Bodnar with 3:19 left. Woodland forced a Torrington punt on the next possession, but the Hawks failed to convert on their last possession.

Woodland’s Nate Bodnar (3) pulls in a pass before running in for a touchdown ahead of Torrington’s Malcolm Francis (14) Oct. 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Still, Bodnar said he was proud of the way he’s seen his team improve over the last two months under first-year head coach Joe Lato.

“I think our mindsets have improved the most,” Bodnar said. “Going into the summer without a head coach and a very limited number of kids, we really had almost given up on the season. Our mentality to get better at practice every single day is incredible. Coach Lato is very good at pushing our practice level to the next level.”

Bodnar said there is plenty of work to do if the Hawks want to win games during a difficult second half of the season. Woodland is set to visit Holy Cross on Oct. 9 before enjoying a bye week Oct. 15. After that, the string of opponents is tough: Oct. 22 at Oxford, Oct. 29 at Wolcott, Nov. 5 vs. Ansonia, Nov. 12 at Naugatuck and Thanksgiving eve vs. Seymour.

“We really need to fine-tune everything on offense and defense,” Bodnar said. “Once November comes, we can’t have silly mistakes that cost us yards or downs. We need to keep practicing with great focus and high intensity to ensure that we will be ready for our final stretch of games.”