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Raiders escape St. Paul with 46-38 overtime win.

POSTED November 14, 2015
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

BRISTOL: It makes sense that it was Friday the 13th today.

The only thing the St. Paul Falcons didn’t throw at the Torrington Raiders football team was a guy in a mask with a chainsaw named Jason Voorhees.

Scary, heck yeah. Like Halloween and Michael Myers scary.

With their postseason teetering like a car off the end of a bridge in a Hitchcock thriller, the Raiders got a two-yard touchdown from senior Newton Frias on the Raiders second play of overtime (the teams start from the opponent's 10 with four shots to score), a two-point conversion from junior Dominick Phengkaen and then a game-winning tackle by Phengkaen on a fourth down try by the Falcons.

It all led to a thrilling 46-38, state playoff-saving victory for a Torrington team that dealt internally with some off-the-field personnel issues this week, but managed to shake off a sluggish first half that saw them trail at the half to the upset-minded Falcons.

The last time the Raiders played on the grounds of St. Paul High School, a kid named Logan Marchi was lighting up the airwaves at a record setting pace before taking his talents to Division I football at Temple.

Well, Marchi wasn’t in the area on Friday night, but the same Hall of Fame coach, Jude Kelly, was, and this year’s version of the Falcons offense uses a three-back set that caused huge issues for the Raiders' defense in the first half when they had a hard time getting off the field.

Torrington did stop St. Paul on downs (a St .Paul team doesn’t usually have a punting mentality) on the game’s first drive, but a Freddy Krueger-like play reached up and attacked the Raiders in the form of a bad snap that went over quarterback Connor Finn’s head and was eventually recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by St. Paul for an early 8-0 lead after the two-point conversion.

Playing St. Paul is sort of like being in a live video game, the action just goes on and on and on. The points add up, you hope you don’t tilt and have at least one ball left to throw into the machine at the end.

The Raiders did respond quickly with a 66-yard touchdown pass from Finn to Zack Mancini in just four plays to get on the board, and went ahead by a 14-8 score on a 25-yard run by Phengkaen, who has had his moments this year, but threw a breakout game at the Falcons (14-124).

St. Paul would score twice more before the half while the Torrington offense sputtered to go into the break, up 24-14 with momentum and a great running game led by Ben Pryor (25-106) and Pierce Piana (23-118).

With just two games to go and no room for error in their quest to make the state playoffs and play December football, the Raiders needed to find a way to stop the Falcons while getting their offense cranked up.

As they took the second half kickoff and began a drive that seemed to feature a 45-yard touchdown run by Frias, the Torrington offense was both working but the Raiders ability to stay away from the yellow flags was not.

A hold by Phengkaen brought back the score, an unsportsmanlike penalty against Finn further derailed the drive which was topped off by a fumbled pitch by Phengkaen that gave the ball back to the home team.

Now, Friday the 13th is an equal opportunity horror franchise so when the Falcons put the ball right back on the ground and the visitors recovered, Phengkaen had to wait just one play to atone for his error, which he did on a 30-run bolt for the score that, after the conversion, made it a two point game at 24-22.

Torrington would hold on defense this time out and Finn found Cam Ceruto to put Torrington up 30-24 with the game getting near Super Mario Brothers level of scoring and of course, the Falcons came right back down the field to tie things at 30 off a Piana 11-yard run with 6:10 left in the fourth quarter.

Sometimes, scoring too quickly is a bad thing and it was on the Raiders next drive when Frias (17-158) took off and scored on a 48-yard score, and after a conversion by Phengkaen, a 38-30 lead with 4:40 to play.

St. Paul would use almost all that clock but scored with 22 seconds to play in regulation, and with the two-point conversion, the dreaded overtime.

It’s kind of like losing in the states on penalty kicks, just doesn’t seem right but it’s what we had in Bristol as evening charged into the night.

In high school overtime, each team is given the ball on the opponent’s 10-yard line and has four cracks to get in. A team can either kick the extra point or go for two.

If stopped, the opposing offense gets a crack and if they score in any way, the game is over. If both teams keep scoring the same amount of points, you guessed it, the pin ball game continues.

It would take the Raiders just two plays to cross the goal line. An 8-yard run by Ignacio Reynoso got it started, Frias banged in the next two for the lead.

Phengkaen went off the right side on over for the conversion and Torrington led 46-38.

Did the Raider defense, which had struggled at times in stopping the run, have one more, big stop in them?

On first down, Piana was stuffed at the line. On second down, Pryor, who had made his fortune on the outside on Friday night, was stuffed and dropped for a two-yard loss. Piana lost three more on third down, setting up fourth and goal from the fifteen.

Phengkaen, who had his ups and downs during this memorable game for the junior, tracked down quarterback Kyle DeForge eight yards short and the Torrington playoff run was allowed to continue.

As the two teams left the field, a steady rain started to fall, as if to remind us that the best horror movies happen while it’s raining.

After a bye week, the Raiders will be in Watertown on Thanksgiving Day for their annual battle for “The Helmet” at 10:15 a.m.

Let’s hope the gremlins that invaded the Raiders camp this week are chased away by then.

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