TORRINGTON — Maybe the Woodland football team takes a while to warm up. Maybe the Hawks just like keeping spectators in their seats. Whatever the motivation, Woodland is a second-half team.
The Hawks overcame a 14-12 halftime deficit and outscored Torrington, 18-6, in the second half to pull away with a crucial, 30-20 win last Saturday and take firm control of second place in the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division.
Woodland’s second-half dominance has come down to defense in each of the last five games. In fact, in second halves played on the same day as the first (which includes every game except the opener against Ansonia) the Hawks have allowed just 19 points.
That stifling defense came up in the clutch again last Saturday, forcing two crucial turnovers in the fourth quarter to derail any thoughts the Red Raiders had of a comeback.
Jake Pinho intercepted a bomb thrown down the right sideline by Jared Williams with three minutes remaining to seal Woodland’s third consecutive win.
“I was thinking, ‘If I catch it, the game’s over,’” Pinho said. “We knew they had no timeouts left so I just went down. Victory.”
Pinho’s pick wasn’t even the most impressive defensive play of the quarter for the Hawks. On the second play of the fourth period, Williams rolled out for a play-action pass but linebacker Zach Happy barreled untouched into the backfield and crushed Williams just before he threw, jarring the ball loose.
Eric Collodel was right on Happy’s heels, scooping up the ball and rumbling 35 yards to the end zone to extend Woodland’s lead to 30-14 with 10:46 left in the game.
“I got a good spin off my guy and saw Happy hit the quarterback,” Collodel said. “I saw the ball come out and saw my chance for a touchdown. I was thinking, ‘Just find the end zone.’ That closed out the game mostly.”
Woodland coach Tim Shea said plays like those made by Pinho, Happy and Collodel are important to the Hawks’ defensive philosophy.
“We tell the kids, you never know when it’s your turn to make a big play,” Shea said. “Happy and Collodel each made huge plays on the fumble. We knew we weren’t going to be able to stop Torrington, but if we could limit them and force turnovers, we would be all right.”
The Hawks couldn’t stop Raiders running back Brenden Lytton in the first quarter as he rushed for nearly 100 yards in the period, including a 39-yard touchdown down the left side of the field.
“He’s a hell of a back,” Shea said of Lytton, who finished with 209 yards with two touchdowns on 32 carries. “We didn’t think we were going to stop him, but limit him by gang-tackling and hitting hard.”
Woodland weathered Lytton’s first-quarter barrage. The Hawks’ defense allowed just 63 yards of offense to Torrington in the second quarter, 49 of those coming on another long scoring burst by Lytton to put the Raiders up, 14-12, at the half.
But the Hawks added a heavy dose of offense in the third quarter, opening up their running game after trying to utilize Jack DeBiase’s arm in the first half. Woodland went ahead for good with 4:52 left in the third on a 5-yard TD run by Craig Genz following a pair of rushes by DeBiase that spanned 66 yards.
Genz factored prominently into Woodland’s next offensive series, bursting through a hole in the middle of the field for a 51-yard run to set up Matt Zaccagnini’s second touchdown of the night. Zaccagnini’s 6-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 24-14.
“There was a huge hole that even Coach [Mike] Stankus could have fit through,” Genz said. “I went through it, made a move, and I was off to the races.”
Genz finished with 77 yards on nine carries, while Zaccagnini earned 19 yards on five attempts. The Hawks were led by DeBiase’s 115-yard performance on 16 rushes. Pinho also added four runs for 51 yards.
Torrington coach Dan Dunaj tipped his cap to the Woodland running game and defense for its second-half performance.
“They out-executed us in the second half,” Dunaj said. “It came down to that. We had our chances, but they capitalized on their opportunities better than us. Hats off to them.”
The win made the Hawks 3-0 in the Copper, potentially setting up a divisional title game Nov. 5 in Naugatuck. But Shea isn’t looking that far quite yet.
“We have a big game next week against St. Paul,” Shea said. “We’re not looking ahead any further. You’ve seen our schedule. We can’t afford to look past anyone.”