Raiders take a big step in 30-6 win over Oxford.
OXFORD: Sure, this was a game the Torrington Raiders football team should have won.
After all, the Oxford Wolverines are a young program, new to the Naugatuck Valley League and a team that is going to take their fair share of lumps this year.
Sure, the Raiders outgained the home team on the offensive side of the ball by a 479-158 margin.
Sure, the score was 23-0 at the half and only a late touchdown pass in the fourth by the Wolverines spoiled the shutout.
Sure, Tyler Marens ran for a country mile (193 yards on 23 carries) with the ground gain churning up 353 yards in big chunks at times on Friday night.
But to be honest, the best thing that came out of the Raiders 30-6 win was what didn’t happen and what it means to a program that has worked so hard under second year head coach Gaitan Rodriguez.
You saw it first when the visitors took the opening kickoff and marched 81 yards in eight plays, culminating in a nine-yard run by Tori Hammonds Marens had chewed up 38 yards on the drive.
After the score, there it was. A calm, business-like approach to a score. No chest bumping, low fiving or anything near it. Flip the ball to the referee and get back to work.
“Coach has been talking to us about being more under control,” Marens said, “We have to act in a more mature way.”
For a program that was lost a year ago when the head coach took over, this night, coming on the heels of an emotional 28-27 overtime thriller a week ago at Woodland, was one we should take note of.
Rodriguez has been working to change a culture, a way of doing business. Teach his players the meaning and privilege of wearing the Raiders colors like they mean it.
The message seems to be getting through to the troops who dominated at the offensive line of scrimmage, held the Wolverines to just 59 yards rushing on the night and even added a safety for good measure.
After their emotional win against the Hawks eight days ago, Torrington started a new tradition that featured a Hawaiian cheer, players only, to celebrate the victory.
On Friday night, Rodriguez told his team to do the cheer on the bus, so as not to embarrass the Wolverines after a tough night.
“We have been on the other side of games like this,” Rodriguez said. “I want them to act with class and dignity.”
Marens, who is simple impossible for three or four players to tackle (that’s normal, right?), ran behind an offensive line that gets better every week.
Developing second and third options after Marens is an important part of this team’s offensive makeup and on Friday, wide out Nick Paniati made his presence known with five catches, good for 72 yards and a touchdown pass from Connor Finn.
Finn had a good night (14-14-126) as the Raiders stayed on the ground (42 of 56 plays) where they found consistent success.
Linebacker Bryan Rocha wrecked an Oxford drive all by himself in the second quarter with a sack and a safety on consecutive plays.
In their opener against Naugatuck, three weapons appeared on the offensive end. Marens, Zach Mancini and Finn. That was it though and on Friday night, Rodriguez looked to gain some diversity in his attack.
“They were double-teaming Zach,” Rodriguez said, “So we got him the ball in the backfield a few more times and got some good runs from other guys aside from Marens.”
Mancini ended the night with 58-yards of rushing to go along with his 26 yards through the air.
Sophomore Tori Hammonds got into the mix with a nine yard touchdown run on the opening drive and gained 32 for the game.
The Raiders stay on the road next Saturday when they face off against Sacred Heart at 10:30 a.m. at Municipal Stadium.
Having as many weapons as possible can only make this Raider team harder to play.
Winning with class will make it even more fun to watch.