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New-Look Raiders Fall to Seymour in Football Opener

POSTED September 09, 2016
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By Rich Elliott

TORRINGTON – The excuses were lined up neatly for Torrington junior quarterback Brandon Reiff. He could have used any of them Friday night and they all would have fit nicely following a 49-7 loss to Seymour in the season opener at the Robert H. Frost Sports Complex.

The Raiders lost 10 starters on offense and eight on defense from a team that finished 9-2 last season and reached the CIAC state playoffs for the first time since 1983. This year’s group is laced with youth and inexperience.

Yet, Reiff is not preoccupied with the past. His focus clearly rests in the present. And what transpired over the final 23:17 of the first half and in the opening minute of the third quarter against the Wildcats left him angry.

``I just think we need to step up and the younger guys just need to fill those holes,’’ Reiff said. ``It’s their time to shine now so it’s got to happen. Last year is last year. It doesn’t matter that we’re young. We should’ve won (Friday) and we made mistakes. That’s why we lost.’’

The Raiders started strong as senior Dom Phengkaen scored on a 55-yard run up the middle on the first play from scrimmage. Cherique Cherry then recovered a fumble by Seymour senior quarterback Jaylen Kelly at the Torrington 18 on the ensuing possession.

That, however, would be the end of the Raiders’ good fortune. Three players later, Anthony Moll covered a fumble on a strip-sack of Reiff at the 11 and Seymour would score 49 unanswered points.

``We scored on the first drive. Perfect,’’ Reiff said. ``And now we’re just done. So I think we just need to push and just seal our blocks and just do everything right and prepare for next week. You can’t take it away. The past is the past. So we just need to focus on the future and strive for greatness. Once get everything moving we’ll be unstoppable.’’

Seymour junior running back Bobby Melms tied the game with a six-yard run. The Wildcats would then capitalize on Torrington’s second fumble in as many possessions, with Kelly giving them the lead with a 26-yard run with 3:54 left in the first quarter.

Melms added a five-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the quarter. Kelly would account for two touchdowns in the second quarter on a one-yard run and a 24-yard pass to Lucas Bowen, while Tamar Coverson-Epps also scored on a one-yard run.

Seymour led 41-7 at halftime. Torrington amassed just 29 yards of offense following Phengkaen’s big run.

 ``The positive is we came out strong, scoring on the first play of the game,’’ Torrington coach Gaitan Rodriguez said. ``But the theme of the preseason has been we haven’t been consistent. And little mistakes here just added up and before you know it it was 21-7. And on a night like (Friday) it’s humid out and you’re down it feels like you’re down by a mile and you’ve got an elephant stepping on your chest. I’m not making any excuses for them. We played a very good Seymour football team. They’re going to be very tough this year.’’

Kelly rushed for 102 yards and scored two touchdowns on 13 carries and threw for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He left the game after hooking up with Alex Massie for a 48-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the third quarter.

``He’s not only effective throwing the ball, but he’s also got that dimension where he can run the ball,’’ Rodriguez said. ``He’s a runner that’s really tough to take down. All you really need to do is just get him a seam.

``Defensively, we just didn’t pursue very well. Especially as the game went on at times our pursuit was nonexistent. We’ve got a young group and we’ve just got to get back to practice and start getting better at the little things as it’s going to take some time.’’

Phengkaen finished with 85 yards on seven carries to lead the Raiders. Reiff was Torrington’s second-leading rusher among the first-team with 16 yards on three carries.

``When we executed you saw that we gained yardage and things looked good,’’ Rodriguez said. ``When we didn’t, which was for most of the night, it looked sloppy. There’s just no magic pill but just getting reps. As these kids grow they’ll gain confidence. A lot of it has to do with confidence.’’

The transition from last season was not going to be easy for the Raiders. Growing pains were inevitable. And neither Rodriguez nor the players were ready to wave a white flag as they walked off the field Friday.

Nine games are still left to be played. The road to success begins in practice and continues when Torrington faces Wilby Thursday at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury (6 p.m.).

``It’s just going to take a lot of reps,’’ Rodriguez said. ``It’s going to take a lot for this unit to play together. This is only the third week since the start of the season (Aug. 19). So we’ve got to clean up the mistakes and we’ve got to grow. It’s only Game 1. And what I told them is, `The good news is that we have a lot of season left.’

``I think you see the potential that we have. We’re going to be alright. We’re going to improve. I’m hoping that when we’re sitting here on Thanksgiving people could see the improvements.’’

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