WATERTOWN: Call it a shocker, call one of the biggest upsets in a while in this storied rivalry that spans 46 seasons.
When the dust cleared on a beautiful Thanksgiving morning, the Watertown Indians had beaten the Torrington Red Raiders by a 18-13 score because of one thing.
They simple played a far superior physical game against a team that had been doing just that to their opponents almost all season.
Think about it. The Raiders came into the game as the highest scoring team in the entire State of Connecticut and had arguable one of the best in the state at running back in Brenden Lytton, who had gained 2333 yards coming in.
Football is often won by the skill players like Lytton or by a deep pass or a great punt return that turns the tide.
On Thursday morning, the Indians won the biggest battle of them all; the one in the trenches.
It’s an old cliché but a great one. Games are often won on the line of scrimmage.
“This one is on me.” Raiders coach Dan Dunaj said. “Watertown played harder than we did. They physically beat us up. I didn’t have the team ready to play today.”
The Watertown defense held the high powered Raiders running attack to just 131 rushing yards.
They held Lytton to a very pedestrian 120 yards on 31 carries. Joan Toribio, who needed just 58 yards to reach 1000 in his sophomore year, was held to just four, yes I said four, yards on seven carries.
The Raiders forced a punt on the games first drive after one Indians first down and started one of their patented long, time consuming drives that featured 11 straight hand-offs to Lytton.
An almost seven-minute drive came up empty though, as a holding penalty put Torrington in a position they don’t like to be in, an eventual third and seventeen.
Watertown held for the first of two times in the first half and pulled a bit of trickery to keep a drive going which resulted in the games first points.
On fourth and six from their own 49, punter Steve Niele pulled the ball down and took off for 28-yards and a first down deep in Raiders territory.
Senior running back Anthony Avoletta would score the first of his three touchdowns on the day when he went in from four yards out with three minutes gone on the second quarter.
Late in the second quarter, Torrington started another long drive with hopes of tying things up before the half.
A 12-play drive ended with a Lytton fumble on the Watertown 20-yard line and the home team went into the half with all the momentum and a 6-0 lead.
“We had just played one of our best first half’s of the season.” Watertown head coach Mike Veronneau said. “I told them to keep up the intensity in the second half and we would be fine.”
Things started just fine for the Indians, who recovered an onside kick (a Torrington weapon all season) and went to work from their own 48-yard line.
On third and seven though, Indian quarterback Andrew Biello threw a pass over the middle that was picked of by Lytton and returned 68-yards for a touchdown.
“Lytton made a great read on that play.” Veronneau said. “He came all the way from the other side of the field to make the play.”
PJ Kilmartin split the uprights for a 7-6 lead and it appeared the Raiders had awakened from their early game slumber.
Avoletta had other plans though, keeping the momentum from completely turning by breaking away on a 59-yard scoring run up the middle on the third play after the Lytton pick-six.
Just like that, the Indians were back in control.
The Watertown defense continued to do one thing very well with Lytton; they never allowed him to get into an open space for very long.
On the interception return, fans saw what Lytton did so well in his amazing 19 games as a starting back and safety.
In the open field, forget taking him down without a fight, Lytton weaved his way to that score, but the Indians never allowed him to break anything over 13-yards all morning.
It was the Torrington defense that was doing their best to keep the team in the game and a 42-yard interception return for a score by Phil Bresson on Watertown’s next possession gave the visitors the lead back at 13-12.
For a game that started slow on the scoreboard, the points flowed in the third quarter and on the home teams next drive, the game winning points were scored.
It took just five plays and when Avoletta took off for his third score, this one from 40-yards out, the lead was 18-13 and the rest was left to the Indians defense.
As the fourth quarter started, the Raiders got the ball on their own 41 with twelve minutes left in their season and 59 yards between them and a go-ahead score.
Torrington drove the ball eight plays and 49 of those yards and had a first and goal from the Indians 10-yard line.
A Lytton run for three was followed by perhaps the defensive play of the day for the home team.
Linebacker Ryan Milo, who played a tremendous game against the run, dropped Lytton for a three-yard loss back to the ten.
After an incomplete pass brought up fourth down, a Bresson pass to Lytton in the corner of the end zone was overthrown and the ball went back to the home team, who were able to gain three first downs and run out the clock.
Torrington finishes with their second consecutive 7-3 season while the Indians end 2011 with a 4-6 mark.