Woodland coach will never forget efforts of seniors

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By KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — Four turnovers make it difficult to win any football game. Four turnovers make it almost impossible to win a Thanksgiving football game with postseason implications.
Seymour took the ball from Woodland four times on Thanksgiving Eve, turning two of those takeaways into touchdowns as the Wildcats beat the Hawks, 22-15, before an estimated 600 fans in Beacon Falls.
“It was painful,” said first-year Woodland coach Joe Lato, whose team finished 5-5. “I thought we outplayed them, but there were unforced errors, penalties and turnovers. It wasn’t because of poor effort; it was just unfortunate. If we’d played a clean game, it would have been different.”
The dagger was a fourth-quarter interception by Seymour’s Dylon Ospina with his team trailing, 15-14. On the next play, Caden Drezek tossed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Colin Frey, and the two-point conversion gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead with 7:53 remaining.
Woodland kept it close all night despite playing without its top skill player, Nate Bodnar, who broke his leg during the Nov. 12 loss at Naugatuck. Ben Brooks picked up the slack in the running game, scoring both of the Hawks’ touchdowns.
Brooks’ 3-yard run in the first quarter, along with Brian Babo’s extra point, tied the game at 7-7. Facing a 14-7 deficit in the third quarter, Darren Gasparri’s 51-yard hookup with Jace Molczyk set up Brooks’ 4-yard touchdown run. Mason Mastropietro’s two-point conversion run gave Woodland its only lead of the night, 15-14 with 1:46 left in the third.
But the squandered possessions — two on lost fumbles and two on interceptions — were too much to overcome against Seymour (8-2), which earned the No. 6 seed in the Class S playoffs and took a 10-9 lead in the all-time series with Woodland.
Despite finishing 5-5 and missing the state playoffs for the first time since 2017, Lato believes this year’s team — led by seniors Bodnar, Brooks, Jay D’Angelo, Josh Gibson, Josh Morales, Matt Dutkanicz and Tyler Lato — leaves a unique legacy at Woodland.
“This class is up there with the state championship classes because they kept [the program] together,” Lato said. “Ben Brooks kept this team together in the springtime when there wasn’t a coach. They stuck with the program when it needed them the most. This could have easily been a co-op situation. It’s a miracle that we played a full varsity schedule and a full JV schedule. Without them, we’re not defending the hill. I’ll never let a future team forget these guys. I’ll always remind them of what this team meant to the program.”