Football: Warriors end best season in decade with romp over Trinity

The Wilton High football team may have fallen short of making the state playoffs, but nobody was complaining after the Warriors’ 30-3 win over Trinity Catholic on Thursday morning at Fujitani Field.

The Warriors couldn’t have written a better ending to their season than they did in the second half, outscoring the Crusaders 30-0 in the final two quarters for their most notable win of the season.

Wilton finished the season 7-3, marking the first time since 2007 that Wilton’s reached the seven-win mark. The Warriors wound up 10th in the Class L state rankings, just missing out on the field of eight for the playoffs.

“You’re the coach and you go in there and say, ‘You’ve got to play the greatest 24 minutes you’ve ever played’. And I think they played the greatest 24 minutes they ever played as a group,” said an emotional head coach Bruce Cunningham of Wilton’s second-half performance.

After spending several minutes embracing many of his seniors in long hugs, Cunningham spoke of the special nature of the class, which had helped Wilton weather some difficult years before the work paid off this season. The Warriors had more wins this season than the last two seasons combined.

“(They) gave more than any group of seniors that I’ve ever had. I said to them, you didn’t have maybe a whole lot of success even going back to their days of youth football as a group. To come out here and lead a bunch of guys to this finish, and the way we finished out here today...that’s a pretty special group right there. I can’t even put into words how happy I am for them,” he said.

“Everybody could have abandoned them, and a lot of people did abandon them, and told them they weren’t any good, and they refused it. Their leadership as a group is unbelievable,” he later said. “On this day, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about the seniors on this day.”

The win was also a crowning achievement in what has been an incredible season for the Wilton defense. The defense had been solid all season (allowing less than 14 points per game), but Thursday’s effort was by far the most impressive. Trinity Catholic (6-4) not only entered the game as one of the FCIAC’s most explosive offensive teams, averaging 31.5 points and 360 yards per game, but was on a five-game win streak and still had a shot of making the Class S state playoffs.

It was the sixth game the Warriors defense has held an opponent to seven points or less. The Warriors did not allow a touchdown in four of their final five games.

In the second half, the Warriors allowed Trinity only five total yards.

“We’ve given up 17 points points on this field all year in five games. It was three straight shutouts going into today on this field,” Cunningham said. “If you look at it, it was three straight games and a half. We were down 14-7 at the half to Warde in the first game of the year. So we gave up basically three points in four and half games, our defense, on this field, playing at home. We play good defense.”

After a quiet first half offensively, Wilton racked up 216 yards in the second half. Tailback Will Litton has a huge half, running 10 times for 135 yards and three touchdowns.

It was an outstanding effort by Wilton in the trenches. Anthony Sanzaro, Jack DiNanno, John Amato, Steffen Nobles, Colin Carroll, Jack Dooley and A.J. Pykosz took control of the line on the offensive side in the second half (Mike Wehrli also contributed), with excellent blocking to open the way for Litton's exploits.

“I don’t care how big we are. We run the ball pretty darn good for a bunch of guys, compared to those 300 pounders. I’ll take them any day,” Cunningham said of the offensive line.

On defense, the front four of Nobles, Pykocz, Carroll and Marty Zoruba played perhaps its best game, along with linebackers Harvey Alexander, Kyle Shifrin, T.J. Kedzierski and Litton. Also part of the big defensive effort were defensive backs Matt D’Elisa, Chris Hyzy and Jake Savvaides.

While it took the Wilton some time to get going offensively, the defense made enough big plays in the first half to keep the game close.

Trinity drove 47 yards on the game’s opening possession, before the drive stalled inside the 20-yard line and the Crusaders settled for a 32-yard field goal by Davie Broncati.

A short punt gave Trinity great field position at midfield on its next possession and the Crusaders promptly moved the ball to inside the 30. But on a fourth-and-one play, Frank Alfano was stopped inches short of the first down by Litton and Carroll. Alfano had just come into the game to replace Trinity starting quarterback Nick Granata, who had suffered a game-ending injury the play before.

On Trinity’s third possession, the Crusaders moved the ball to their own 45, but a tackle behind the line by Alexander (who had a huge game on defense) and a penalty killed the drive and Trinity was forced to punt.

After a three-and-out, Wil Sullivan got a great roll on his punt, which went for 62 yards down to the Trinity three-yard line. Unfortunately, a penalty moved the ball to the 22.

The Crusaders again advanced the ball into Wilton territory before a holding penalty took the steam out of the drive, and the first half ended ended in a tackle behind the loss by Pykosz.

Trinity had 138 total yards in the first half to Wilton’s 25.

Wilton opened things up to start the third quarter with three straight pass completions. The third pass, featuring a great throw by D’Elisa and leaping catch by Joe Pozzi, was good for 31 yards to the Trinity 24-yard line. Four players later, Sullivan booted a 34-yard field goal to tie the game 3-3.

The Crusaders moved the ball to their own 48, but on a fourth-and-two play, Jonmichael Bivona was tackled behind the line by Alexander for a loss of three

Two plays later, Litton took the ball up the middle and broke into the secondary, shedding one tackler, for a gain of 40 down to the Trinity five. On third down, D’Elisa scored from the one, putting Wilton up 10-3 with 3:20 left in the third quarter.

On Trinity’s next play from scrimmage, Alfano was stripped off the ball and Nobles recovered the fumble at the Trinity 28. Runs of 12 yards by Litton and eight yards by D’Elisa moved the ball inside the 10, and Litton’s seven-yard TD run extended Wilton’s lead to 17-3 with 1:16 left in the third quarter.

The Wilton defense then began to dominate. Pykosz stopped Bivona for no gain, and after a loss of 12 on a bad snap, and nine-yard sack by Nobles, Carroll and Zoruba, Trinity was back on its own three-yard line, facing a fourth-and-21. After the punt, Wilton took over at the Trinity 40, and a 38-yard scamper by Litton moved the ball to the one-yard line. Two plays later, Litton ran it in from the two, making it 24-3 with 9:40 left.

The Wilton defense kept pushing Trinity backwards. A drop behind the line for loss of five by Alexander, and sack for negative-10 by Nobles and Carroll, pinned the Crusaders at their own two-yard line, with a fourth and 25 and another punt.

Three plays later, it was Litton again as he scored on a 26-yard run to make it 30-3 with 6:17 left.

Cunningham said coming out with the pass to open the second half was a key to the Warriors turning the game around.

“Coming into this game we haven’t had to throw the ball much in the last few weeks. We had jumped up on teams and our defense was carrying us,” Cunningham said. “I did tell them during the week that we were going to have to throw the ball today, and there’s going to be a couple of situations that we’re going to need receivers to make a big play. And Joe Pozzi’s catch on that post pattern, I think that’s what kind of got us rolling a little bit. And from there our running game kind of got going. That’s what we do best. But we had to open it up a little bit and we did.”

For the game Wilton outgained Trinity in total yards, 241 to 144. In the second half, Wilton had 216 total yards to Trinity’s five.

Litton finished the day with 146 yards on 16 carries, while D’Elisa had 24 yards and one TD on six carries. The rushing game also featured Savvaides (two for 27 yards), Joe McFadden (six for nine yards), Brian Calabrese (one for three yards) and Alexander (two for one yards).

D’Elisa competed three of seven passes for 37 yards. Pozzi had two catches for 38 yards, and Litton had one catch. Harrison Brandt also made a great catch for 10 yards that was negated by a Trinity penalty.

Notes: Wilton finished the season unbeaten at home (5-0).

Thursday’s game was the 12th time Wilton and Trinity Catholic have clashed on Thanksgiving since the “rivalry game” was started in 2005, and the Wilton win tied the series at 6-6. The Crusaders had won the previous two years by a combined score of 89-28.