Raiders come away with important gut check win over Kennedy, 20-18.
WATERBURY: It was a test that the Torrington Raiders football team needed to pass.
A moment in their maturing process that just had to happen or any progress made seven games into the season would have been for naught.
The Kennedy Eagles had stormed back from a 20-0 deficit and were a 34-yard field goal attempt (with 33 seconds left in the fourth) away from pulling off a miracle comeback while crushing their neighbors from the north in the process.
Torrington senior co-captain Tori Hammond was ready on the defensive side of the ball and with a perfectly timed rush up the middle, blocked the kick before it had any shot of getting airborne, securing a 20-18 win for the Raiders.
A gut check, growing up moment for a young team that holds out hope of finishing the 2016 campaign on the upswing.
The last minute block saved the Raiders from what would have been a disheartening loss and negate a dominating performance, especially in the second quarter when visitors scored on back to back long runs by Dylan Myrie (26 and 75-yards).
Torrington had built a 20-0 lead off those two long runs by Myrie and a key 27-yard interception return by Brandon Reiff on the Eagles opening drive of the second half.
Seemingly in the driver’s seat, a turnover by Myrie (his second fumble of the game) opened the door for Kennedy to shift the momentum.
Kennedy quarterback Joe Schaff scored from a yard out after the turnover at the Raider 23-yard line put them in business.
After stopping the Raiders on a fourth down try, the Eagles scored on a nine play drive that culminated in a seven yard touchdown run by Mark-Anthony Telusma.
The Torrington offense stalled, giving Kennedy an opportunity to tie things up with a score and conversion.
All-purpose back Jacob Colon, who accounted for 156 of the teams 284 total yards of offense, scored with 2:50 left in the fourth to bring the Eagles within two at 20-18.
Enter Hammond who had two great saves on Saturday. The first game when he hurried Schaff into an errant pass attempt on the two –point try, keeping the Raiders in the lead.
Even though Torrington had their hands players up for the on-side kick, the Eagles managed to recover it at the Raiders 45-yard line with 2:38 remaining.
It looked for all the world that this game was not heading to a positive conclusion for Torrington, not with all the momentum clearly in the Kennedy corner.
The Eagles drove to the Torrington 20, got pushed back five yards because of a motion penalty before stalling at the Raider 18, facing a fourth and seven.
After using their final timeout, Kennedy opted for the field goal try by Colon with time running short and no ability to stop the clock.
Hammond pulled off his second save of the day on the field goal try, timing his rush just right so he found a seam and went untouched to the ball for the game winning block.
The Raiders first half was their best opening half of the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball were Torrington turned Kennedy over on downs their first two times they had the ball and ended a scoring threat just before the half with an interception in the end zone.
“Going into the second half of the game, we were in control,” Raiders head coach Gaitan Rodriguez said. “But, they (Kennedy) just kept chipping away and we turned the ball over down here and then they found some momentum offensively. We had to hold on but when we had to make a key stop, we did it and I told these guys that I was proud of how the played.”
As the momentum kept flowing towards the opposite sideline, Rodriguez watched to see how his squad would respond to this intense pressure.
“How are they going to respond to these types of situations,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t get this when you play in games that you are up a bunch. It helps you grow up.”
This is a very young team, both in grade level and experience level. What they learned today the coaches can’t teach or simulate in practice, you have to live it.
“They grew up today,” Roriguez said. “They showed me something today and it’s something I have been seeing the last couple of weeks. There’s fight in them. They’re not giving up and they’re playing until the end.”
Kennedy falls to 3-4 while the Raiders improve to the same mark.