Football: Warriors ground out opening-night win

Riding an offense that featured a ground game toggling between methodical and explosive, the Wilton High football team dismantled Brien McMahon last Friday night, 42-21, in the season opener at Wilton’s Tom Fujitani Field.

All six Warrior touchdowns were scored via the run, with tailback Harvey Alexander and halfback Kyle Phillips each reaching paydirt three times. For the game, both backs accumulated more than 100 yards rushing a piece — Phillips 131 yards on seven carries and Alexander 140 yards on 25 carries.

Wilton amassed a 28-0 lead in the first half, scoring the first four times it had the ball. The Senators hurt themselves with six penalties in the first quarter, helping the Warriors to a 14-point lead.

McMahon received the opening kick-off but could get nothing but a three-and-out, leaving Wilton the ball at the Warrior 36. Alexander did the heavy lifting, grinding out a pair of dives up the middle bookending Phillips' 44-yard scamper on a sweep. Alexander finished off the 64-yard, six-play drive by crashing into the end zone behind the blocking of his surging offensive line. Will Sullivan kicked the extra point, the first of six on the day, and Wilton led 7-0 at 8:13 of the first quarter.

After a fine punt by McMahon’s Chris Druin backed Wilton up to its eight-yard line, the Warriors embarked on a 92-yard march that included a Brian Calabrese-to-Rob Hermann completion, personal foul and pass interference penalties on McMahon, and five carries by Alexander — the last of which covered five yards for a TD with 1:31 left in the quarter.

After another McMahon punt, Wilton got the ball at its own 48 and it took five plays to travel the 52 yards. Drew Herlyn ripped off 22 yards on one carry and after Alexander softened up the middle with a pair of runs, Phillips skirted the right end on a 24-yard option-pitch for a 21-0 lead at 10:10 of the second quarter.

“We played solid defense in the first half,” said head coach Bruce Cunningham. “We could have been a little more consistent over the course of the game, but I thought our 'D' really played well in that first half.”

There was no better evidence of that then on the Senators’ fourth possession. Starting from their own 38, they moved to the 47. On fourth down with a yard to go for a first, Alexander charged in from his linebacking position to sack QB Druin and give Wilton the ball at the McMahon 40.

Calabrese started the fourth scoring drive by calling his own number for a five-yard gain. Two successive pass completions, the second a 25-yarder to Hermann, put the ball at the McMahon 12. Alexander then bashed into the line four straight times, getting the ball to the one. From there, Phillips barged into the end zone as part of a pulsating mass of tumbling bodies with 3:33 left in the half.

Every credit needs to go to the offensive line — tight end Kyle Shifrin, tackles AJ Pykosz and Trey Snyder, guards Jack DiNanno and John Amato, and center Mike Wehrli — which had to function effectively in order to make the rushing attack go.

As crisply as the first half had begun for the Warriors, the second half was a different story. Wilton received the kick and on its first play from scrimmage, Calabrese looped a high pass deep to Hermann that was intercepted and then returned to the Warrior 27 by Alijah Baskin.

The Wilton defense looked to have held again, forcing an incomplete pass on fourth down. But a roughing the passer penalty gave the Senators a reprieve at the Wilton 10, and from there Sean Miller sped his way into the end zone, cutting the lead to 28-7 with 10 minutes to go in the third. There was no further scoring in the quarter, though with two minutes remaining Calabrese unloaded a perfect pass from the McMahon 23 to a wide-open receiver in the end zone, only to have the ball dropped.

The two teams fought each other to a draw with two touchdowns each in the fourth quarter. Brien McMahon sliced Wilton’s lead in half on a 16-play, 75-yard drive, punctuated by Tsai Zoe’s one-yard TD run and Michael Santa Lucia's second of three extra points.

“We were inconsistent but we did answer their drives,” Cunningham said. “After they scored in the fourth quarter, we recovered the onside kicks and scored touchdowns. I think we helped them on their first score when we had that fourth-down roughing-the-passer call and the second score when a helmet-to-helmet penalty call kept their drive alive. Their third touchdown we were trying to run the clock and were keeping everything underneath.”

After Zoe scored, Wilton needed just four plays to respond, including a fine run by Joe Murtha that would set up Alexander’s 10-yard TD jaunt. The Senators showed resilience as Druin engineered an 80-yard drive, scrambling the final 12 yards to cut the Warrior lead to 14.

But with just over 3 minutes left in the game, Phillips bolted for a 52-yard TD that iced the game for Wilton.

“To be more consistent in the second half, we’re going to have to practice situations, emphasize what we see in films so we can get things corrected. We need to be making our biggest improvements in our first two weeks,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham has no illusions. He will need everything he can get from his team as it prepares to face Staples this Friday night at 7 at Fujitani Field

“They play great defense,” he said of the Wreckers. “They're experienced, fast, tackle well. Then they’ve got the big back (Harris Levi) and their quarterback is real good. Their receivers are solid.Their O-Line has improved greatly. They really get after you. And their special teams blocked three punts against Central. Staples is just a well-coached, well-rounded, tough football team.”