WATERTOWN - Was it high school football at it’s crisply-played best when Watertown High School and Waterbury Career Academy clashed in the NVL opener for both teams at the John Mills Complex on September 10?
No it wasn’t, and anyone with an objective mind will admit to that, but to be honest about it, who would have expected a pair of fine-tuned gridiroin machines?
No one, that’s who, because neither team had faced actual game competition since November of 2019 and most of those players were no longer on the sidelines when the game made it’s return.
Asking senior players who were sophomores and juniors who were freshmen and still trying to figure out their places in the greater scheme of things when they last suited up (a few pounds lighter and a few inches shorter) to assume veteran leadership roles as seniors and juniors, as well as the duties of captains (Cam Guerrera, Sam Weidemier, John Kozar and Sab Tamburrino) can be a bit overwhelming.
Oh, and throw a new head coach and a few new assistants into the mix and, well, everyone is going to need some practices and actual games to see what’s there.
As Al Davis used to say: “Just win, baby!”
Despite it all, the Indians did just that, making Shawn Stanco’s head coaching debut a successul one, as they rallied in the second half to defeat the Spartans, 22-8 in a turnover-plagued but entertaining game in front a good-sized crowd which was on hand to not only welcome the return of football, but also gathered to commemorate the passing of program icons Roger Ouellette and Katie Consalvo, those lost to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to remember the victims of the 9-11 attacks on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy in pregame ceremonies.
Watertown struck first, but only after narrowly averting disaster when Kozar fumbled the ball to the Spartans on the Watertown 13; on the very next play, D’Vonte Lane of WCA returned the favor, with Aiden Arline falling on the ball at the WHS 26.
Calling his own number on first down, Weidemier swept left, got a few key blocks, then outran the WCA secondary down the sideline and into the end zone for the first points of the season.
After an offside penalty against WCA, Stanco forwent the one-point kick and Weidemier justified the call by running in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 Watertown lead, the only points in a wild quarter in which each team turned the ball over twice.
Those would be the Indians’ last points until the fourth quarter; in between, however, there were more than a few moments which saw both teams bend, but not break.
WCA quarterbacks Jane and Ettson (who ran 12 times for 77 yards, most coming while being chased out of the pocket), under constant pressure from the Indians’ front seven, scrambled every which way they could, looking for receivers who were blanketed by WHS defensive backs such as Weidemier, who picked off an Ettson pass at his 10-yard line to end a threat.
In the second quarter, Career drew even when Ettson sprinted to his left from the Watertown seven and across the goal line; junior lineman Tracy Graves ran in the two-point attempt and the game was even at 8-8, which is where things stood through the rest of the second and third quarters.
Weidemier’s effective punting kept WCA pinned as he and Stanco looked to win the battle of field position; twice in the third quarter, the strategy nearly paid off only to have WCA frustrate the locals by holding on fourth down attempts from their 34 and 14 yard lines.
With the game’s outcome still very much up in the air Matt Doolan made the play which led the way to the lead and ultimately, victory.
Doolan picked off an Ettson (1-7-51) pass at the Watertown 25 and returned it to the WCA 44 with 9:45 left.
Mixing runs and passes, Weidemier eventually floated a pass which fell into the hands of Joe LaChance from 14 yards away; the first of two Alex DaPonte conversion gave the Indians a 15-8 lead.
On their next possession, the Indians put the game away when Arline picked off a Lane pass; from the Career 42, Tobias Koval weaved his way through the WCA defense for the insurance tourchdown with 5:16 remaining.
Those five minutes felt like an hour as the clock slowly wound it’s way down despite stoppages for incomplete passes and penalties, but as the clock hit four zeroes, the Indians swarmed around Stanco, the former WHS player and assistant to congratulate him on a win he’ll never forget.
Not many are likely to forget the occasion, and the smiloes were evident on the faces of everyone leaving the MAC, happy that he long wait was over.
Football is back.
1 2 3 4 T
WCA 0 8 0 0 8
WHS 8 0 0 14 22
WA - Weidemier 74 run (Weidemier run)
WC - Ettson 7 run (Graves run)
WA - LaChance 14 pass from Weidemier (DaPonte kick)
WA - Koval 42 run (DaPonte kick)
NEXT UP: The Indians hit the road for the next two weeks...The first stop will be to take longtime divisional rival Wolcott High School in the Eagles’ season-opening game on Friday, September 17 at Monroe Field at 6:30 p.m.