TORRINGTON – The rain was relentless and the weather very much December raw. Not kind of a rotten day, a rotten day. Unless you are associated with Watertown High football. In that case there wasn’t nearly enough rain to put a dent into dream-realized smiles.
In three yards and a mouthful of damp rubber pellets conditions the Warriors advanced to the Class SS state championship game with a big-time efficient 21-0 blanking of Gilbert-Northwestern on the turf at the Robert H. Frost Complex.
The Warriors will face No. 7 Joel Barlow, a 17-16 winner over Sheehan, Saturday at 4:30 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. It is just the second time Watertown has ever played for a state football title, defeating Platt High, 31-0, in 1986.
“This is amazing. Things have changed since 1986, back then they only took two teams,” Watertown coach Shawn Stanco said. “But this is a great thing. “All I could think of on the bus here was Roger Ouellette and George Palomba. They were my coaches. I call them my football Gods. Now we are so close. We are very thankful.”
Watertown was 5-5 during the regular season but a .500 team has been nowhere to be found lately in the midst of a four-game win streak. The recipe on this day? How about a near perfect defense and Brady Gambee.
The defense totally throttled GNH allow just 90 yards while coming up with two interceptions from Gambee and Adam Hassinger. Gilbert did not complete a pass. Meanwhile Gambee picked and poked finding lanes to go through and corners to get around, piling up 155 of the Warriors 246 yards on the ground. Two of his runs resulted in touchdowns.
“We just thought we could run the ball and pound down their throats. We did that the last time we played (12-7 Watertown win.),” said Gambee.
It was too much and too good for GNH who finished another solid season with a 7-5 mark.
“(Watertown) just shut down the run,” GNH coach Scott Salius said. “They brought the safeties up and basically put nine people in the box. And we had a couple of passes that didn’t connect and we needed them to loosen their defense up. We didn’t do it. We never got anything going and never established anything.”
GNH’s rugged quarterback Shane Risedorf gave credit where credit was earned.
“Watertown was really aggressive to the ball on the outside with their corners and they were rushing hard,” Risedorf said. “They were just more intense.”
Don’t be misled. As efficient as Watertown’s win was, it wasn’t easy. The Warriors led just, 7-0, at the half capping off a 14-play, 64-yard drive that ate up 7:16 on the clock with a 5-yard run from Gambee.
The turning point in the game came on GNH’s first possession of the second half. On a fourth-and 1 from its own 40-yard line, the Watertown defense stuffed the middle to stop Aiden Avenia (11-68) for no gain.
“We were trying to get something going,” Salisus said. “We were going to go for it no matter what. We need to get some momentum going. We had run the play early in the game and gained four or five yards. It didn’t work out this time. “
Given a short field, the Warriors took seven plays to up the lead to 13-0 on Gambee’s 3-yard run through the left side.
The Warriors added its final score two plays in to the final quarter when Gambee hit Hassinger with a shot pass over the middle which resulted in a 23 scoring play. Hassinger then made a terrific catch in traffic to complete the two-point conversion.
Gilbert never got closer than the Warriors 43-yard line during the game.”
“We shut down (Risedorf and Avenia) and we knew they didn’t pass much,” Watertown defensive end Julian Guerrera said. “We hit hard and we sent 11 men to the ball. Everybody played their behinds off. “