WATERTOWN - The New York Giants could have learned a lesson (and with five games to go, perhaps they still can) from Watertown High School’s football team. When presented an opportunity to take a game from a reeling opponent in Chicago last Sunday, Big Blue politely held up their hands and said “no, thanks.” The Indians, on the other hand, when served up their game against Naugatuck High School on November 21, didn’t ask for permission, they simply took what they felt was rightly theirs.
With no apologies they made off with the prize, in this case a thrilling 20-15 victory over the Greyhounds which, pending developments, kept their CIAC Class ‘M’ playoff hopes alive.
Pending those developments, the Indians, who completed a four-game sweep of their month-long road trip, ranked ninth (eight teams qualify, with New Fairfield High School, which was at New Milford High School on November 26, sitting in the final spot), took a 7-2 record into the annual Battle for the Helmet, which could also have seen the end of era for the program, as head coach Luigi Velardi formally announced on November 24 at the WHS Gridiron Hall of Fame banquet that this will be his final season at the helm.
Football fans here in New England have become used to the sight of a quarterback wearing number 12 fearlessly leading his team down the field, stepping up and out of defenders’ grasps and hitting receivers with laser-like precision in key situations, forcing his will on his teammates and the opposing defense.
There’s a certain inevitability about it, and frustrating if you’re not a fan of said number 12.
It’s hard, however, not to have been impressed with the clutch performance of the Indians’ number 12, more commonly known as Xavier Powell, who, when all appeared lost, willed the Indians to that everybody-standing, heart-pounding 20-15 victory at NHS in front of a partisan crowd at Veterans’ Field.
Leading midway through the fourth quarter by a 15-6 score, the Indians (aided in great deal by ultra-conservative play-calling by the Hounds as well as a defense which didn’t give an inch) didn’t quit; no they simply showed the guts to take the away for their first win over the Greyhounds since 2008.
A march against the clock at the end of the first half ended in frustration, but with everything on the line in the final minute of the fourth quarter, the Indians got the job done when Powell, on third-and-goal from the NHS two, calmly hit junior wideout John Biolo in the front corner of the zone for the winning six pointer with 13 seconds (and no time outs) left, capping a 12-play, 65-yard drive which began with 3:06 left on the clock.
Powell’s offense was not to be denied; only once did they reach third down, as he ran for 30 yards and completed passes to Leo Kolonsky and Biolo for the other 30.
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Despite numerous injuries affecting several key playmakers, the Hounds, , behind senior quarterback John Mezzo, effectively ran out a wishbone formation, but when stops were needed, both defenses came out superior, with both teams making fourth down stops in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Naugatuck, starting from its’ own 26,k got on the board first, with Mezzo leading a nine-play drive.
The key plays were a fourth and one run by Mezzo for six yards to the WHS 37; three plays later, Mezzo floated a pass to Isaiah Williams, who outleaped a defender for the in the end zone.
Aided by a pair of personal fouls for face-masking against Naugy, the Indians and Powell, mixing passes and runs, marched to the NHS two with 22 seconds remaining.
On fourth down, an errant snap forced Powell to fall on the ball at the NHS two , bringing the first 30 minutes to a frustrating close.
Still, there were 30 more minutes to play and no need to panic; after all, the Indians who had deferred after winning the coin toss, would get first ups in the third quarter.
Using 4:26, the locals, with Powell making several sensational escapes, marched down to the Naugy seven, where a pass to Biolo put them on the scoreboard.
Despite a miss on the two-point attempt, Powell and the Indians had proclaimed that it was game on, as he went 6-for-7 for 55 yards.
Their lead shaved to 7-6, the Greyhounds responded and seemingly turned the tide in their favor for good when Mezzo marched them down field on a 69-yard march which featured power running out of the bone by Mezzo, Jacobi Brown and Connor Maxwell, with Mezzo carrying in from the one to make the score 13-6.
Another bit of good fortune followed when, after Emmanuel Peel’s PAT hit the upright and bounced away, the Indians were hit with a roughing the kicker penalty, which allowed them to go for two points.
Mezzo, a man on a mission, carried in and the Indians were in trouble - big trouble when they took over with 7:10 remaining after Naugy went three-and-out.
With Kolonsky and Jonathan Palomba making the big catches, the Indians made their move to within 15-14.
First on fourth-and-five his own 36, Kolonsky made a sensational catch, picking the ball almost off the artificial turf; after a WHS holding penalty, Powell fired down the middle to a wide-open Owen Munson, who thundered 55 yards to the NHS eight.
One play later, Palomba, reaching as high as he could, made a Dwight Clark-like catch in the end zone with 4:51 left; Powell hit Munson with the two-pointer and the feeling was if WHS could get the ball back with a decent amount of time left....
Wouldn’t you know, that’s precisely what happened, as to the dismay of the home fans, the Hounds, from their own 35, lost three yards on three no-chance running plays into the rugged interior of the Watertown defense, using only 1:32.
What happened from there (see above) is now etched firmly into Watertown High School football lore; how it all plays out will be known when the CIAC reveals it’s playoff fields on Friday, November 29.
The loss dropped the Hounds to 5-4 overall after a 5-0 start in which they looked all-but-unbeatable; how times change.
With the right breaks, we’ll get to see Velardi coach another few games; perhaps the Giants would be wise to show up and learn take some notes.
Couldn’t hurt, right?
THE BATTLE FOR
‘ THE HELMET’
Edition number 54 between the Indians and Torrington High School took place at the Mills Complex on November 28, with the NVL’s Iron Division title on the line, as both teams brought 2-1 divisional records into the game.
Last year’s game was moved up to the evening before Turkey Day because of weather concerns, and on a snow-covered Frost Field in Torrington, the Red Raiders held off a determined Watertown comeback attempt for a 37-20 win, snapping a two-year WHS winning streak in the series in which they took a 27-25-1 lead.
In that game last season, Powell, playing his first full season but already showing signs of blossoming into the top quarterback he has emerged as this season, ran for two touchdowns and compiled over 200 yards of total offense (112 running, 96 passing) as brought WHS, trailing 21-8 at one time, to with 21-20 before the Raiders regained their big lead for good.
Nothing but pride and bragging rights were at stake in that game; this year’s scene promised to be a whole other matter.
Players who were honored: Charles Maynard, Nathan Maull, Leo Kolonsky, Xavier Powell, Jaeden Goodwine, John Terlizzi III, Jake Sheehan, Anthony Velardi, Jonathan Palomba, Rafael Dayton, Kyle Keegan, Owen Jalbert, Matthew Hardisty, Stan Guillory, and Owen Munson.
1 2 3 4 T
Watertown 0 0 6 14 20
Naugatuck 0 7 8 0 15
N - Williams 34 pass from Mezzo (Peele kick)
W - Biolo 7 pass from Powell (run failed)
N - Mezzo 1 run (Mezzo run)
W - Palomba 8 run (Munson pass from Powell)
W - Biolo 2 pass from Powell (pass failed)