GUILFORD – About the only difference between Wilton and Guilford was a mere six inches.
That half a foot was the distance in which Guilford kicker Joe Nault missed an extra point, which enabled Wilton to hang on for a 21-20 victory over the Indians in the season opener for both teams and as part of the FCIAC-SCC Challenge.
Wilton had led 21-14, with 11:44 to play when Nault scrambled across the entire field for a 52-yard run to close Guilford within a point and it seemed as if would be tied momentarily afterwards. However, the snap wasn’t perfect and Nault hooked it left just outside the left post, leaving Wilton with a one-point lead, 21-20.
“It hurts, but that’s not what hurts the most,” Guilford coach Tom Unger said. “We have to do a better job of being disciplined. We had too many penalties and turnovers and we’re not good enough to make mistakes that cost us.”
Guilford did have two chances to grab the lead from there, but was backed up deep in its own territory and was forced to punt. Wilton collected a pair of first downs and was able to run out the clock.
“That was two teams that fought like crazy out here tonight,” said Wilton coach Bruce Cunningham. “Unfortunately, someone has to lose.”
Guilford’s triple option offense seemed impossible for Wilton to stop early as Nault (15 carries for 197 yards) keyed a 70-yard touchdown drive in less than four minutes as the Indians took a quick 7-0 edge on a 15-yard run by David Knapp (12 carries for 74 yards).
“That drive we had in the first half was awesome,” said Unger. “We’re capable of doing it, but we have to be consistent.”
A 1-yard scamper by Wilton quarterback Brett Phillips (14-of-22 for 214 yards passing and 14 carries for 82 rushing) made it 706 with 5:54 to go in the first half. E.J. Sessani, who just joined the Wilton team 10 days ago after playing soccer, nailed the first of three successful extra point tries.A pair of Nault runs for over 25 yards apiece pushed the ball quick downfield for Guilford, where Knapp banged it in with 58 seconds remaining in the second quarter and it looked as if the Indians would go into the locker room at halftime with a 14-7 lead.
But that changed quickly when Phillips connected with a wide open Dan Baird on the left side and he raced all the way to the Indians’ 5-yard line. Three plays later, John D’Elisa scooted into the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns on the night. With Sessani’s extra point, it was deadlocked at 14-all at the break.
“It shifted the momentum a lot,” Phillips said “We came out after halftime, rode the momentum, scored and that ended up being enough.”
With Phillips having a hand in all but two plays, Wilton completed the 11-play, 67-yard drive with a D’Elisa three-yard jaunt as the Warriors grabbed the lead for the first time, 21-14, just over four minutes into the second half.
On the other side of the ball, Wilton used the 15 minutes at intermission to make some significant adjustments on the defensive side.
“We made some changes up front and handled the fullback,” said Phillips. “Their quarterback is a hell of a player and we knew we couldn’t contain him all day. We knew we could bend, but not break.”
Only when Nault took off out of the pocket when Guilford was trying to pass the ball for the lone time in the game were the Indians able to get the ball deep inside Wilton territory the rest of the way.
“I told my guys before the game that we can’t simulate the speed of the triple option,” said Cunningham. “We had to try to slow it down and make them go on long drives where we’re not giving up huge chunks.”
Wilton 21, Guilford 20
Wilton 0 14 7 0 0 — 21
Guilford 7 7 0 6 0 — 20
G—David Knapp 15 run (Joe Nault kick)
W—Brett Phillips 1 run (E.J. Sessani kick)
G—David Knapp 6 run (Joe Nault kick)
W—John D’Elisa 2 run (E.J. Sessani kick)
W—John D’Elisa 3 run (E.J. Sessani kick)
G—Joe Nault 52 run (kick failed)
Team records: Guilford 0-1; Wilton 1-0