Raiders top Hawks in OT, 28-27.
BEACON FALLS: Sometimes THE opportunity presents itself when you least expect it; those who recognize the window usually come out on top.
Such was the case for the Torrington football team and their junior signal caller, Connor Finn who scrambled 17-yards for a game tying score with 18.2 second to go in regulation on a broken play that had disaster and a loss written all over it.
“Sometimes a play is going to break down,” Torrington head coach Gaitan Rodriguez said. “And you have to make a play and Connor did.”
Finn’s scramble from the right hash marker all the way across the left side of the field and into the end zone gave the Raiders life and the responded well to resuscitation, scoring a touchdown in overtime on a 6-yard pass from Finn to Flavian Moya.
After the ever reliable PJ Kilmartin slipped the extra point just through the uprights, the defense held on the two-point conversion try and Torrington left the Valley with their first win of the year, a dramatic 28-27 win over the Hawks.
“I looked to where we were going to actually go and it wasn’t there,” Finn said of his game saving and tying scamper. “It was supposed to be a hitch and go (to Zach Mancini) but the play hadn’t been there all game. I looked around, got some great blocking, saw the opening so I ran it in. The whole team did a great job on the play.”
In overtime, Finn found Flavian Moya (5-52) on a six-yard touchdown connection that, with the Kilmartin kick, put the Raiders up 28-21.
Woodland had a chance to match the Raiders under the overtime rules and did punch it in on a Joe Poeta two yard run but the senior running back was stopped at the one line as the Hawks went for the win with a two-point conversion try.
The Hawks had scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to go up 21-14, the last seven on a nine play, 66-yard scoring drive that was capped by a Mike Kenney three-yard sweep.
The Raiders started their game tying drive from their own 44-yard line thanks to a short kick by the Hawks that left the visitors with great field position with 3:01 left in the fourth.
Tyler Marens (21-76) gained 19-yards on three carries but after the Raiders had gotten a first and ten from the Woodland 20, the drive stalled, leaving a fourth and seven from the Hawks 17-yard line.
Two incompletions and a three yard scramble by Finn had left them with little time (28.7 seconds) and one play that had to get the seven yards while getting whoever had the ball out of bounds to stop the clock.
It was the junior quarterback though, who kept his composure when the pocket collapsed around him and found the daylight and a spot just inside the pylon for the score.
A week after being beat up by a high powered Naugatuck offense that scored 37 points and pulled their starters in the third quarter, the Raiders came into Beacon Falls and faced a team that had a new quarterback, Mike Kenney, a converted receiver.
Gone was All-NVL signal caller Tanner Kingsley, replaced by one of his targets in Kenney who threw just 12 time for 58 yards and an interception but ran for 102 yards on 21 carries.
The Hawks out rushed the Raiders by a 221-100 margin but while the Raiders defense, still a work in progress, bent it didn’t break.
Things didn’t start too well for the visitors as Finn was picked off by Jonathon Scirpo on the first offensive play of the game but the Raiders “D” forced a three and out.
Woodland returned the turnover favor on their next possession a fumble was recovered by the Raiders on the Hawks 22 yard line.
Finn would connect with Zach Mancini on a 13-yard touchdown pass that gave Torrington their first lead of the season.
The home standing Hawks got on the board six minutes into the second quarter when Poeta scored on a four yard sweep.
The extra point attempt was tried by Lauren Shalette but was just off to the right. Shalette would connect in the fourth quarter on an extra point attempt though.
Marens would score the lone points for either team in the third when he rambled in from six yards out.
On the drive, Finn and Mancini combined on a key third and eight that saw Finn scramble to but time and Mancini work his way back to his quarterback for a terrific third down conversion.
Speaking of Marens, the praise is well deserved. Listed at 5’6”, 145 pounds, Marens runs like a player twice his size.
“He’s the smallest kid with the biggest heart,” his quarterback praised. “I’ve played with him ever since I started playing football. He’s progressed into one of the best players on the field and you could see that today.”
His head coach is high on the junior as well.
“He just keeps his legs churning,” Rodriguez said. “Pound for pound, he’s got to be the strongest player on the team.”
The first of their two long drives in the second half for Woodland saw the first one start late in the third and end with 10:14 left in the fourth. It covered 67 yards and ended with a one yard run by Kenney.
Poeta added the conversion and we had a tie ball game.
There were times on Thursday that some of the same habits that caused the Raiders problems a year ago were on display. A holding penalty was followed up on the very next play by a motion penalty that killed their drive and set up the Hawks go-ahead drive.
But when it counted, 17-yards away from pay dirt, the Raiders and their junior quarterback kept their heads in the moment, something that did not go unnoticed by their coach.
“I am proud of how they kept their composure at the end of the game,” Rodriguez said. “In the past we might have said ‘oh here we go again’ but we didn’t.”
NOTES: To say it had been a while since this coaching staff remembered an overtime game that involved their team would be an understatement.
Back in 1995 when Rodriguez was playing and his freshman coach, Michael Ciesco was in sixth grade, the Raiders played rival Naugatuck on a Friday night before their were permanent lights at Torrington High School.
“They brought in temporary lights to see how it would go,” Rodriguez said. ”It was when everything was about “Friday Night Lights”. We beat Naugatuck for the first time in about ten years in the exact same way we did tonight in overtime.”