MERIDEN — Woodland found out the hard way how tough it is to win a postseason game after fumbling away the football five times.
The No. 7-seeded Hawks gave away the ball on each of their first three drives and never recovered, losing to No. 3 North Branford 62-27 in Sunday’s Class S semifinals before an estimated 1,200 fans at Falcon Field.
“We haven’t been bitten like we were today,” Woodland coach Tim Shea said. “We’ve had turnovers before but not like today. The bounces went for them and not for us. North Branford’s a great team.”
North Branford (12-0) converted its first two takeaways into points on 1-yard touchdown runs by Dale Hausman and Brandan Basil to make it 14-0 just 4:18 into the game.
Woodland (8-4) turned over the ball for a fourth time just before halftime and a fifth time in the second half. The Hawks had lost just four fumbles in their previous 11 games but North Branford coach Mark Basil said his coaching staff saw the potential to create turnovers.
“We were looking at some things coming in that we could do defensively and we got a few strips,” Basil said. “We know defense and momentum is what dictates the game. Our defense had a challenge but we always know that turnovers can swing a game. We wanted to grab momentum as soon as we could. They were looking at the strip.”
The five turnovers were a season high for the Hawks.
“I’d like to think that if we played a little better on offense, it would have been a much better game,” Shea said. “I’m not saying we would have won, but it would have been a lot closer.”
The Thunderbirds’ offense was as good as advertised, hanging the second-most points ever scored against the Hawks (shy of the 63 Ansonia scored in 2007). Most of the damage came on the ground even though Brandan Basil entered as the state’s second-leading passer.
Hausman racked up 181 yards and three touchdowns but he wasn’t the only rusher doing damage. After Anthony Scirpo caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Kingsley midway through the first quarter to cut the deficit to 14-7, Joe DeLucia got in the mix with scoring runs of 12 and 4 yards before adding a 61-yarder on the second play of the second half to make it a 41-13 game.
North Branford scored on nine of its 13 full possessions and punted only once. Woodland picked off Brandan Basil twice but the senior quarterback was still an efficient 12-of-19 for 201 yards. Basil ran for a pair of scores and threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Chris Caron late in the third.
Missed tackling, though, was once again Woodland’s chief nemesis.
“That’s been our thing all year,” Shea said. “We try to get the kids in the right spots scheme-wise. We have to execute better in space. That’s been our knock this year.”
The Hawks established a running game with Taylor Tucciarone (19 carries for 124 yards) but Woodland wasted most of its possessions. Five ended with fumbles, three with punts, and two with fourth-down failures.
Kingsley, who was 21-of-32 for 231 yards and four touchdowns, became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season and his 51 touchdowns blew out the old state record of 43. He hit Brian Reis and Brian Zaccagnini each with one score while two went to Scirpo.
Scirpo’s 12-yard catch in the fourth was his 25th aerial score of the season, which broke former Bristol Central star Aaron Hernandez’s state record of 24.
“We had a great senior class and I’m genuinely upset that they couldn’t get where they wanted to go,” Shea said. “We told the kids that this would sting today. That’s sports. But as time goes on, the kids will be able to reflect back on what we did. If this is the worst thing that ever happens to them, they’re going to be all right.”