Torrington had already squandered a couple shots at winning a big game this season, if the Raiders let a third get away Friday night at Naugatuck, they likely wouldn't play a meaningful game the rest of the season.
Led by Brenden Lytton the Raiders' season lives on as they proved to be a gritty bunch, pulling out a 31-27 victory over the previously unbeaten Greyhounds in an NVL thriller played under the lights in Naugatuck.
WTNH channel 8 picked this one as its game of the week and they were right. If Torrington goes on to accomplish some of its preseason goals, this one will be its game of the season.
"A couple things tonight didn't go our way but our kids were very resilient," Torrington coach Dan Dunaj said. "The kids kept playing hard, we didn't have let downs when we could have. We responded when we needed to on offense and on defense.
The first two games of the season didn't turn out too well, but the third time was the charm for the Raiders.
Torrington (3-2) had built up its season opener at Ansonia as one of its biggest games and years but fell flat and were outclassed by the Chargers, 49-20. The Raiders also let a game get away against Holy Cross and blowout wins over Wolcott and St. Paul proved not much more than that they could win a game they were supposed to.
Friday night provided a better glimpse at what Torrington football both is and has the potential to be and coach Dan Dunaj and his staff had to like what they saw.
The Raiders weren't perfect, the conditions and opponent wouldn't allow for that, but they were gutty, they dug deep and they came up with a play just about every time they had to to pull out what for now is a season-saving victory.
Torrington goes as Lytton goes, everyone knows that, especially on offense. The do-it-all senior running back picked up 287 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns (3 rushing, 1 receiving) but he couldn't do it alone.
Torrington won this one because a number of Raiders stepped up and never let themselves get down. Joan Toribeo, Demetrius Dailey and A.J. Vecino took turn making plays on defense, none more important than an interception return for a touchdown by Dailey that pulled Torrington within 13-12 in the second quarter and turned the moementum in the Raiders' favor.
"We saw that play all the time in practice, we kept going over it and going over it," Dailey said of the screen pass he turned into a Torrington TD. "When I saw the receiver drop back I looked at the quarterback and he opened up and when a corner sees that you have to break on the ball. I broke on the ball and scored the touchdown."
Dailey's pick came at a big time and was in keeping with the theme of the night for the Raiders - make a play. Naugatuck's Jake Yourison opened the scoring with a 30-yard TD run and then returned a kickoff for a score right after Lytton scored his first TD of the night. Dailey had dropped an interception on the previous play but bounced right back.
"Our coach always tells us to have heart and never give up and always finish," Dailey said.
Next it was the defense's turn to step up as a unit after Lytton had made an interception but fumbled on thr return. Naugatuck started 1st-and-goal inside the 1 but couldn't score. Vecino made a big play, shooting a gap on 2nd-and-goal from the 3 for a 2-yard loss and the D-line stuffed Yourison on 4th and goal from the one.
Torrington responded with a 99-yard drive in which Lytton picked up every yard, capping it with a 47-yard TD reception on a screen where he broke a tackle, broke one more and then was gone. Instead of Naugatuck extending its lead, Torrinton capitalized on the goal-line stand and took its first lead of the night 18-13.
"The goal line stand was huge, a great job by our defense," Dunaj said. "And Brenden is just a great player, you know something good is going to happen when you put the ball in his hands.
Lytton scored two TDs in the third quarter to give the Raiders leads of 24-13 and 31-21, but the Greyhounds didn't go away, cutting it to 31-27 on a 50-yard TD run on 4th-and-3 with 10:16 to play. The drive was set up by a Torrington fumble after a long run into Greyhound territory, but the Raiders bounced back once again.
Torrington didn't score again but held the ball for just over seven minutes and drove it to the Greyhound 11 before being stuffed on 4th-and-1. After allowing one first down, Lytton iced the game by intercepting Yoursin with a little over a minute to go.
"It was a big win, We knew they were a great team but we were able to come out and execute and do what we had to do," Lytton said. "We had big defensive stops, a goal line stand, we made plays on offense, everyone did a great job."
And every Raider will have to keep on doing a great job from here on out. With two losses a playoff bid isn't a sure thing even if Torrington wins out, making every game "do or die" as Lytton described Friday's matchup with Naugatuck.
"We could potentially win any time we get on the field, I believe that," Dunaj said. "We still have a bear of a schedule. We have Woodland next week, who is very, very good and after that we take on a tough Derby team. Life wasn't over after the Ansonia game and still wasn't over after the Holy Cross game, you have to get out and play every week."
Torrington did just that Friday and because of it the 2011 season lives on.