WATERTOWN — Jake Coleman ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns on a tailor-made day for Torrington’s 34-26 win over Watertown Thursday morning in an annual game with more-than-usual importance for both sides.
Overcoming the strife and suspension of four players, the Raiders’ 3-1 Iron Division record wins the division championship while Torrington’s 6-4 overall record marks its first winning season in four years.
On the other side, Torrington’s happiness knocked the 7-3 Indians out of contention for its second Class M playoff appearance in the last three years.
“You stepped up. I knew you could do it because of what’s written on your helmets,” Coach Gaitan Rodriguez told his team in what might, this year, be a celebration of the least important aspect of the decades-old Thanksgiving rivalry game — retention of The Helmet Trophy and a 28-25-1 series advantage.
The word “Brotherhood” printed down the center of the Raider helmets was never more meaningful for Torrington’s rebound from late-season internal strife leading to a forfeit last week.
“This win was right up there (in importance),” Rodriguez said. “It generates a lot for our program.”
Instead, Mother Nature helped the Raiders defend Watertown’s passing game. Strong winds served up five interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns.
“The wind was a big factor and we just didn’t have our focus,” said Watertown coach Luigi Velardi, whose Indians rebounded from last year’s 3-7 record to a No. 9 ranking in the eight-team field, needing a Thanksgiving win and some help to crack the lineup.
Meanwhile, Torrington’s direct-snap running game sliced through the wind and Watertown’s line from the get-go.
Three plays after the kickoff, Coleman sprinted 59 yards for Torrington’s first touchdown while Joey Zepperi and Tyler Semonich previewed Indian quarterback Xavier Powell’s nightmare with interceptions on his first two pass attempts.
The second quarter was more of the same. Shorter passes couldn’t get it done for Powell (15-for-28, 139 yards, 4 interceptions). Coleman churned up a 30-yard run, followed by a 10-yard score late in the quarter for a 14-0 halftime lead.
“We knew Watertown is a very good second-half team so we didn’t relax,” Coleman said.
Indeed, Indian running back Jon Palombo slashed through 55 of his 64 yards in the third quarter, finishing Watertown’s 11-play opening drive with a six-yard run into the end zone, followed by his two-point conversion run.
Coleman answered with a 65-yard kickoff return, but the Indians stayed mainly on the ground for another long drive, culminating in a one-yard plunge by Anthony Velardi, 20-14.
The wind blew up again in the fourth. Torrington’s Kye Smith ran an interception back 35 yards to extend the Torrington lead.
Palombo followed with two more Indian touchdowns, but, at 27-26, the two-point conversion attempt failed and Exodus Rosado had the last Torrington interception – a 13-yard return with 20 seconds left.
“It was a phenomenal game on both sides,” Coleman said.