Jeff Jacobs: With win and a cheer, Woodstock Academy's players honor their stricken teammate and their coach, his father

Photo of Jeff Jacobs

HARTFORD — No. 10 and his initials were drawn on the biceps of many of his Woodstock Academy teammates. They were painted on the sides of the faces of the team managers. There was a No. 10 sticker on the helmets.

Stadium System express shipped pullovers for the coaches that had 10 neatly embroidered on the upper sleeve.

There was no mistaking what this Friday night was all about for Woodstock Academy.

“It was all there,” interim head coach Connor Elliott said. “Braiden was with us. Everyone knew, but it didn’t need to be said. We didn’t dwell on it.”

Braiden Saucier’s jersey remained draped on the bench until the final whistle of this 47-0 road rout of Weaver. That’s when Carter Saracina, one of the Centaurs’ captains and as close to Saucier as anyone, grabbed ahold of the jersey and brought it over for the entire team.

Friday night to Friday night, this had been a long, emotional week for the program, for the school community. Head coach/athletic director Sean Saucier, Braiden’s dad, has taken time off to be with his son.

And now a great cheer would ring out for both of them.

“Braiden has been my best friend,” Saracina said. “We’ve been playing football since we were little, since we were 6. Every game I’ve played with him, never missed a game.

“This week has been hard. It has been hard without him, without coach Sauce. They’re our leaders. They love the game so much. Braiden, the first text I got from him last Saturday he was asking about football.”

The first quarter of the season opener at Enfield was drawing to a close on Sept. 9 when Saucier, who was making a transition from wide receiver to starting quarterback for his senior year, went into seizure. The scoreboard had Enfield ahead, 14-7. Suddenly, the scoreboard meant nothing.

“I didn’t want to look back,” junior linebacker Seamus McDermott said. “Teddy Richardson was giving us a prayer. I was on my knees praying. I looked through my legs (the emergency personnel were working on Saucier) and it was the scariest thing I’d seen in my life. It was traumatic.”

“Obviously, the kids on the field not knowing what was going on,” Elliott said. “It was a scary moment for everyone. As coaches, we’re trying to respond, tell the kids it’s going to be OK.

Saucier was rushed to Bay State Medical Center where he initially was placed in the ICU. The game did not continue. As Elliott pointed out, many of these young guys have never experienced death or extreme medical situations.

“A lot of shock last Friday night,” Elliott said. “A lot of uncertainty. A lot of emotion from everyone. Saturday we didn’t talk football at all. We all came together. Wrote cards. Got the kids breakfast. Spent a few hours together. Being together was real important.

“We had a little talk before the Monday practice. We understand the situation. Now how are we going to respond? How are going to elevate ourselves individually to raise the team up while the leader of our program and the leader on the field are away?”

The message was to focus. Elliott saw the energy and focus pick up as the week progressed.

“Monday was hard, the first practice back,” Saracina said. “The coaches kept us on track. We as a family, we as a team, stayed on track. We knew we had to bounce back hard. (Elliott) had big shoes to fill and he did an amazing job.”

Teddy Richardson, who had led the prayer last Friday, was called on to take Saucier’s place and lead the Centaurs offense against Weaver. Like Saucier, he was a starting wide receiver turned starting quarterback.

“We knew Teddy’s a great athlete,” Elliott said. “What I’m most impressed by was the way he stepped in Monday and took command. He became a vocal leader this week, which was something we hadn’t seen, mainly because he didn’t have to. Knowing he has it in him makes me feel good moving forward.”

It was the defense that made Richardson, who played some quarterback last year, feel comfortable on this night. On Weaver’s first possession, McDermott raced 60 yards with a fumble for a touchdown.

“I think it was Marcus McGregor who hit the running back,” McDermott said. “All I did was scoop it up and take it to the crib. I had a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the second game last year, too. I guess it’s my anniversary.”

It was McGregor who recovered a fumble off a sack on the next Weaver possession, but it ended with a missed field goal. The defense didn’t stop. On the third possession, Saracina’s pick six from 20 yards out made it 13-0.

“I’ve been watching film all week,” Saracina said. “The coaches prepared us. I saw that curl. I saw the quarterback look and I jumped it.”

Richardson, who finished with 60 yards rushing and 76 passing, ran it in from 5 yards to make it 20-0. Trevor Savoie followed with a short TD run. And after an interception from Henry Wotton, Richardson found Saracina with a 30-yard touchdown pass and 34-0 halftime lead.

“Teddy threw a perfect ball,” Saracina said.

Woodstock Academy, which ordinarily broadcast home games on-line, did the game from Hartford. This allowed the Saucier family to watch from the hospital.

“That was great,” Elliott said. “We did get a text at halftime from the big boss: ‘Got to clean up the kickoff coverage a little bit.’”

Elliott, the team’s offensive coordinator, laughed.

“I just hope Braiden and Sean are smiling right now,” he said.

The second half was left to running time. Elliott had all his starters out late in the third quarter. Asked how his first win felt, Elliott answered, “It feels too soon. It feels like I should be helping the kids pick up and somebody else should be answering these questions.”

From when the Enfield game will be replayed, to Sean Saucier’s return to Braiden’s fuller medical status, much is still unknown. The school has requested privacy for the family. The school did say Monday he is up and walking around. Elliott added Friday he remains in the hospital not because of further issues, but to run further tests and for procedural matters.

“I’ve been FaceTiming him and I went to the hospital with some of the guys to see him a couple of days ago,” Saracina said. “He’s up. He’s the strongest guy I know. He will be back. He’s going pull through. I know he can’t live without football. And we can’t live without him.”

Minutes after the game, with his players surrounding him, Elliott offered some profound words. To Saracina. To McDermott. To Richardson. To all his guys.

“If you can get through something like this,” he said, “not only in football, but in life, it will make you a better man a better person, a stronger man, a stronger person.”

The boys let out a roar. You felt it. Even as they were still processing all they had been through the past week, they were better. And stronger.

“It means everything to us,” Richardson said. “We couldn’t do it without 10.”

“Something like this brings everybody closer together and makes you grateful to be on the field every day,” McDermott said. “It makes you grateful for life. I think about Braiden every practice, doing our stretches, doing drills. There is a missing presence. We’re all doing this for him. So he’s with us.”

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123