WATERTOWN >> Torrington High School’s football team (3-8) put the finishing touch on its season turnaround with a 24-6 win over Watertown (1-10) Thanksgiving morning at Watertown High School.
“We went through a lot of obstacles, but you kept fighting. That’s why I love you guys. I’m proud to be your coach,” said Gaitan Rodriguez with tears in his eyes while his team surrounded the Helmet Trophy that comes with a traditional rivalry spanning 48 years.
The Red Raiders, in back-to-back Thanksgiving victories, have now won seven of the last 10 meetings, breaking a 23-23-1 series tie.
This year, the win itself was at least as important as the trophy to a resurgent program filled with young talent and a first-year head coach.
“This is how you want to end the season,” said Coach Rodriguez. “It’s a foundation for the future.”
The young Raiders lost seven games in a row, then straightened up for three wins in their last four games.
Torrington fans revelled in sophomore quarterback Connor Finn’s growing chemistry with receivers like senior Desmond Langs and sophomore Nate Bresson.
Thursday, with a strong wind affecting passes and long snaps, Torrington’s game evened out to 151 passing yards for Finn alongside 228 rushing yards for six different runners.
On the other side of the field, senior Watertown captain Anthony Yordon has been a mainstay, coming into his final game with 946 rushing yards for the season. Torrington held him to 12 yards in the first half; then Yordon, escaping for a 32-yard run in the second, finished with exactly the 54 yards he needed for a 1,000-yard season.
The Raiders were happy to concede him that.
Defensively, we played our best game of the season,” said Rodriguez.
“It was 12 years in the making,” said senior captain Ernie Tracy, a stalwart lineman playing his final game.
Tracy showed off a swollen knee that’s part of hanging up the cleats with a smile on his face after starting the voyage in first grade youth football.
Both teams started the game on shaky feet in the bright bitter cold of the wind.
Torrington, winning the toss, got all the way to Watertown’s 12. Then Indian senior captain Leonel Mideros stepped in front of a Finn pass.
Two plays later, the Indians gave it back on a fumble at their own 26-yard-line.
P.J. Killmartin, in a perfect kicking day (3-for-3 on extra points), put up a 34-yard field goal for the first score.
Sophomore Zack Mancini raced up the sideline to recover Killmartin’s ensuing kickoff at the Watertown 31-yard-line.
Nevertheless, Torrington had to wait for the second quarter for another score.
When it arrived, it was straight from Rodriguez’s building process.
The Raiders worked their way to midfield, then stalled. On fourth-and-one from the 45, Rodriguez put his faith in Mancini and a veteran line.
The reward was a 20-yard jaunt by Mancini, followed by 24 more from freshman Dominick Phengkaen.
Bresson crashed in from the one, 10-0 with the Killmartin kick.
“We knew they were going to run more because of the wind,” said Watertown coach Mike Veronneau.
Sometimes the runs were huge.
Five minutes into the second half, sophomore Tyler Marens took off for a 51-yard touchdown, 17-0 with the kick.
“Our line worked hard. They’re mostly seniors,” grinned Marens, who’s 5-feet-7, 160 pounds of speed.
“They kept us motivated in the locker room,” said Manicini, a match for Marens at 5-feet-6, 145 pounds, also fast.
Down 17 points, Watertown got its scoring break at the beginning of the final quarter. In the first play of the period, quarterback Alexander Cattaneo threw a 21-yard strike to sophomore Zachary Kopp on the sideline. A Torrington hit jarred the ball loose out of bounds. Yordon trucked it in from the one. The kick failed.
Torrington’s offense had one more showcase for its balance.
With six minutes left in the game, Finn hit Langs for 39 yards down to the Watertown three. Mancini took it two more yards on the ground. Finn snuck it in from the one.
“Desmond Langs is a huge, huge player,” said Indian coach Veronneau.
For Rodriguez, it was the final cap on a great Red Raider day.
“Everything I’ve been preaching all year came together,” he beamed.
Torrington 24, Watertown 6
At Watertown High School
Torrington 3 7 7 7—24
Watertown 0 0 0 6—6
T—P.J. Killmartin, 34-yd field goal
T—Nate Bresson, 1-yd run, Killmartin kick
T—Tyler Marens, 51-yd run, Killmartin kick
W—Anthony Yordon, 1-yd run, kick failed
T—Connor Finn, 1-yd run, Killmartin kick
Rushing: T—Dominick Phengkaen 2-for-29 yds; Connor Finn 2/2/TD; Zack Mancini 5/37; Tyler Marens 11/79/TD; Damian Lajoie 11/80; Nate Bresson 1/1/TD. W—Kyle Sklanka 2/16; Anthony Yordon 12/54/TD; Michael Marino 3/41; Nicholas Pierre 2/10; Alexander Cattaneo 5/1.
Passing: T—Connor Finn 11-for-19/151 yds/interception; Alexander Cattaneo 6/12/50 yds; Michael Marino 1/interception; Kyle Sklanda 1/1/37.
Receiving: T—Desmond Langs 5-for-87 yds; Zack Mancini 4/27; Nate Manchester 1/11; Tyler Marens 1/20. W—Zachary Kopp 2/58; Anthony Yordon 2/23; Kyle Sklanda 2/18; Nicholas Pierre 1/7.
Records: Torrington 3-8; Watertown 1-10.