Yellowjackets sneak by Tiger Hawks, 15-14.
WINSTED: Sometimes you have to look past the name on the uniform or your past record against that team or you risk what almost happened to the Gilbert/Northwestern football team on Saturday when they took on SMSA at Van Why Field.
The two teams had not met in two years and the Tigers Hawks had not looked great on film in their opening game 35-6 loss to Canton so perhaps the ‘Jackets took a little bit for granted in their preparation.
“We did not have a great week in practice,” senior lineman Mitchell Jackson said, “Some guys were out sick and we didn’t have more than 30 guys at practice.”
It nearly cost the Yellowjackets who needed a fourth quarter safety and a 23-yard touchdown pass from Aiden Tellier to Rick Persechino late in the fourth to sneak out with a 15-14 win.
“We didn’t have a great plan for them today,” head coach Scott Salius said. “They caught us off guard with a couple of their formations.”
After a scoreless first half that saw nearly as many turnovers as possessions for each team, including touchdowns by each squad that were called back because of penalties, the home team finally got on the board at the start of the third quarter.
Paxton Franklin (20-103), who had his second straight game of over 100 yards, broke loose on a 28-yard touchdown run off a sweep that he took down the left side for the games first points.
It didn’t take the visitors long to get themselves in the points column as they went on a 64-yard drive that was culminated with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Blake Breglia to Devyn Lozada.
Lozada made a great catch on a perfectly thrown ball but the Tiger Hawks two-point conversion, which would turn out to be key, failed.
“GN” gave the ball back to the visitors with a fumble on a reverse ad four plays later, Breglia found Nickolas Lajara for a 40-yard touchdown on another nice, over the shoulder catch to give SMSA the lead at 14-7 after a successful two-point conversion.
With under four minutes to go in the third, the ‘Jackets started on a 64-yard, 11 play drive that unfortunately ended with a Tellier fumble on the Tigers Hawks one yard line.
Turns out it was a fortunate fumble because it pinned the visitors at their own one, never a great place to start a drive and on their third try from the one, Breglia was forced out of the pocket and threw the ball away, resulting in a safety that brought “GN” within five at 14-9.
After turning the ball over on downs, a big hit by the Gilbert defensive unit forced a fumble that was recovered at the SMSA 28.
Four plays later on fourth and five, Tellier found Persechino for a 23-yard touchdown and although the conversion failed, the home team had escaped in a game they could have lost but did just enough to win.
This is a brand new (for the most part) “GN” team that is still looking for their identity with a converted running back (Tillier) at quarterback, a converted tight end (Franklin) at running back and a team that simply needs to play games.
“You can only simulate so much in practice,” Salius said. “These guys need to play in games.”
The Yellowjackets outgained SMSA by a 352-255 margin but turnovers hurt, a week after not losing one in their season opening 34-13 win over Enfield.
NOTES: Canton is the hot team out of the gate with big wins over this same SMSA team (35-6) and a 46-0 shutout of Stafford/East Windsor on Friday night.
Gilbert/Northwestern travels next week to take on Coventry (1-1) on Friday night.
The fumbles on Saturday were caused by two factors. How the ‘Jackets hold onto the ball and how their opponents went after it.
“Give them (SMSA) credit,” Salius said. “They did a great job of attacking the ball which led to a couple of strips.”