Two days, two games, two wins and a whole lot of miles
WESTERLY, R.I. - The 2010 fall season got off to a roaring start all across the region and I was fortunate enough to catch two tremendous football games in the space of about 22 hours, and 175 miles.
My weekend started on Friday night when I made the trip from Naugatuck (where I work for Frito-Lay) to East Lyme High School, the home of the Vikings.
The Vikings had made it all the way to the State Finals of Class L a year ago, so when I saw them as the Torrington Red Raiders first opponent, I was a bit concerned.
After all, the Raiders had lost their starting quarterback, Chris DeBerry amongst others, to graduation and had a sophomore, Jason Abbott, playing in his first varsity game behind center.
Their number one running back, Zach Schebell, was on the shelve with an injury, leaving seniors Brenden Lytton, Franklin Sosa and junior Jared Williams to fill the slack on the offensive side of the ball. Much to get over, on the road against a team that returned 22 seniors, although their entire starting backfield had graduated in 2009.
The Red Raiders, though, didn’t care a lick about who they were playing or how far they had gone a year ago. They just came to play.
Torrington took the play right to the Vikings from the opening kick-off (Which, by the way, I fielded on the sidelines on a bounce without dropping anything. I still got it.) and didn’t stop until they had a 14-0 lead at the half with Lytton leading the way with 154 yards on the ground.
A stubborn Raiders defense had come up with big play after big play, even with the Vikings holding a considerable height advantage at wide receiver.
Their first drive was a thing of beauty in it’s simplicity. Eight plays, all on the ground, including a 44-yard burst by Lytton set up by a huge hole on the right side of the offensive line.
Torrington clearly won the battle of the trenches all night long and the pre-season workout regiment put in by third year head coach Dan Dunaj was paying dividends right away. Even when met by one or more defenders, Raider ball handlers kept their legs moving hard, at times moving the pile ahead.
After a Jared Williams two-yard touchdown run, the visitors had struck first and led 7-0.
An interception on the next Viking drive by senior Will Quarles stopped a drive at the Torrington 37-yard line.
The Raiders turned East Lyme over on downs after a long drive that ended at their 7-yard line early in the second quarter and led to their second score.
Starting that deep in enemy territory may have intimidated past Raiders teams but not this year's version.
On a third-and-five from their own 47, Lytton took the hand-off and headed around the left side for a 53-yard touchdown run that silenced a big East Lyme crowd, energized a vocal Raiders contingency and made the score 14-0.
East Lyme would get on the board with a late second quarter score and eventually tie things up at 14 with just over four minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
This was the Raiders early season gut check. On the road against a tough opponent who was starting to feel it.
How would they respond?
The drive started at their own 37-yard line after a 22-yard kickoff return by Williams. Six plays later, the Raiders faced a fourth-and-three from the Vikings 43-yard line when Abbott attempted his fourth (and final) pass of the night. The throw over the middle resulted in an interference call against the Vikings that gave Torrington a first down at the East Lyme 28 with 1:47 to go.
There was no panic by the Abbott, who found himself in a big game right off the bat. While the team did not ask him to go to the air, his hand-offs were crisp, his timing excellent.
Four plays later on first-and-10 from the Vikings 16-yard line, Lytton, still banged up but determined, took the hand-off from Abbott and made his way around the right side. The senior back was met on the corner by two East Lyme defenders but plowed through both, down the sideline where he dove and hit the pylon for the score.
Torrington had answered the call in a big way and when Dominic Sansone picked off the Vikings at their own 49-yard line, this one was in the books.
A remarkable opening day victory for a team that refused to look at what their opponent had done the year before. They just believed in themselves.
The job doesn’t get any easier this week for the 1-0 Raiders as they host rival Naugatuck on Friday night at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, I made my way north to Winsted to catch the Gilbert/Northwestern Yellowjackets versus the Haddam-Killingworth Cougars at sunny Van Why Field.
Much is expected of this years ’Jackets who came within a game of making the playoffs a year ago when they posted a 7-3 record.
Led by senior quarterback Bobby Lippincott, “GN” was trying to beat a team they had never defeated before.
While the lofty expectations may have led to some early jitters by the offense (an interception on the third play of the season), they soon settled down and raced out to a 14-0 lead at the half.
The Cougars run a formation similar to the Housatonic Mountaineers single-wing but add a quarterback in front of three backs who surround the QB in a semi-circle.
Getting ahead of them early was key for the home team and they did just that behind a one-yard run by Lippincott late in the first quarter and another by Devon Molway midway through the second. Molway broke free around the right side and weaved his way for a 19-yard score.
J.P. Dulac was good on all four extra points on Saturday and is as accurate as they come in the Pequot Uncas Division.
(I always have to laugh when a team scores on the side of Van Why Field that leads to a large downhill brushy area where footballs go to die. If a team is going to kick the extra point, both teams have to motor all the way down to the other goal for the kick. When either a team or official is new to the field, the look of confusion on their faces is priceless.)
The Cougars got on the board in the third quarter and where threatening to get back in this one when Lippincott took matters into his own hands.
After a 14-play, 84-yard drive put HK on the board, the Yellowjackets leader took just five plays to get his team in the end zone to keep it a three touchdown lead.
A 31-yard run by Lippincott on the first play was followed two plays later by a 34-yard pass completion that put the ’Jackets in business at the Cougars two where Drew McCarthy punched it in from two yards out.
GN would give up two late scores but the statement had been made and the damage done as they came away with an important opening day win.
Two games, not a lot of time in between, but some outstanding results from two programs looking to be heard in 2010.