WILTON — For a little while, the penalty that nullified Wilton’s touchdown on a first-half kickoff return looked as though it might be part of a frustrating evening for the Warriors.
But after Wilton scored 28 unanswered points, Staples was the team pondering what had transpired.
Trailing 24-7 with less than two minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Warriors got a touchdown right before the break and then added three more in the final two periods to beat Staples, 35-24, at Fujitani Field.
“Scoring before the first half ended was big for us,” Wilton coach EJ DiNunzio said. “When we did that I really felt we had a better than average shot to win the game.”
The Warriors’ comeback began on the drive after Staples went ahead 24-7 on Jackson Zager’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Nick Armentano with 1:55 left in the opening half. An 11-yard pass from O’Brien to Kyle Hyzy and Drew Phillips’ 12-yard run got Wilton to the Staples 1-yard line, and Phillips carried the ball into the end zone. Parker Woodring’s extra point cut Wilton’s deficit to 24-14 with 18.1 seconds to go.
Wilton (5-2) then scored on its first three possessions of the second half. O’Brien’s 11-yard TD pass to Tucker Walden pulled the Warriors within 24-21, and after the defense forced a punt, O’Brien lofted a 19-yard pass that Kyle Hyzy pulled down over a Staples defensive back for the go-ahead score.
Another defensive stand got the ball back to the Warriors, who went 74 yards in nine plays for the game’s final touchdown. The drive included Phillips’ 18-yard run and two completions from O’Brien to Michael Coffey good for 25 yards, leading to O’Brien’s 14-yard TD pass to Walden. Woodring’s fifth extra point put the Warriors in front 35-24 with 10:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Staples drove to the Wilton 30 on the ensuing possession but was unable to pick up a first down on a fourth and 4 play. The Wreckers reached the Wilton 22 on their next possession but missed a 39-yard field goal attempt.
“Going into this we talked about Wilton getting over the hump … Wilton finally winning the big games,” said Phillips. “It was the last Friday night home game of the year; I think we just kind of took that momentum into it and it paid off.”
“[Staples] is the best 2-5 team I’ve ever been up against,” DiNunzio said. “Jake Thaw (who started and finished the game at quarterback and also contributed as a running back, receiver and kick returner) is one of the most athletically gifted players in the state, but we were able to contain him in the second half. All the credit in the world has to go to my players and my staff.”
For the Wreckers, the blown lead was symbolic of what has become a maddening season.
“We have glimpses, but the cart never fully gains traction,” said assistant Jon Zames, who served as Staples’ head coach with Adam Behrends away due to a family illness. “We have a lot of young players, and that shows in mental mistakes that hurt us.”