Football: Wilton puts finishing touch on another winning season

A lusty cheer went up from the Wilton side of the stands when senior Sam Wright loped, with an uneven gait, onto the gleaming turf of Trinity Catholic’s Daglio Field in Stamford.

It would prove to be the final play of a season-ending game, adding a flourish to the Wilton High football team’s 42-0 demolition of the Crusaders on a cool but brilliantly sunlight Thanksgiving morning.

Wright, due to a pre-season injury, had been unable to play the whole season. He was very much a part of the team, however, as he operated, adeptly, the drone that head coach Bruce Cunningham and his staff found so helpful in planning and executing effective, daily practices.

Wright entered the game on a fourth and one from the Trinity nine-yard line and then waited through a Crusader time-out during which individual Trinity Catholic senior starters left the field to the applause of their faithful fans. Finally, Wilton quarterback Jimmy O’Brien took a knee and the game ended as the teams switched possession.

It marked the second consecutive winning season for the Warriors (6-4) and their second straight victory over the Crusaders (2-8, 2-7 FCIAC) in the annual Thanksgiving game.

Wilton won as it has all year with a punishing ground game and rock-ribbed defense. The Warriors scored in every quarter — twice in each of the first and second, once in the third and once in the fourth.

Cunningham praised his seniors as coaches and players huddled after the game.

“I thanked the seniors for their unselfishness and for continuing to play like Warriors,” he said

“Our offense has been about being unselfish throughout the season,” he continued, noting that he had to make some personnel adjustments for this game. “And don’t forget Trinity and their coaches. They made us earn everything we had.”

Senior QB Brian Calabrese completed three of four passes for 87 yards but two of them were for TDs — the first a 34-yard strike to Robbie Hermann which began the Warriors’ scoring in the first quarter; the second a 25-yard wobbler to Joe Scarfi, who was so wide open in the end zone that he could wait to catch the ball as he would a kick-off. It was the last TD of the first half and gave Wilton a 28-0 lead with a minute left to go.

In between the scoring heaves, Drew Phillips raced 18 yards to the end zone in the first quarter and his brother Kyle swept the end for a five-yard TD in the second.

Trinity opened the second half with a determined 65-yard, 10-play drive. But an interception in the end zone by Hermann and his 30-yard return snuffed out that threat and the Crusaders — who were held to only 138 total yards all game — never really got close again.

The Warriors, taking advantage of the turnover, moved 74 yards in 10 plays to score, with Harvey Alexander powering over from a yard out at 2:17 of the third.

On the day, Alexander went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season, gaining 69 yards including two touchdowns. A 27-yard pass reception and 31-yard run by Drew Herlyn highlighted the march.

Herlyn led all runners with 94 yards on seven carries.

It was Herlyn’s fourth-quarter interception that sparked Wilton to its final TD. After the turnover and starting from their own 36, the Warriors marched 64 yards to paydirt. They did so by feeding Alexander the ball on eight successive carries, the last being a four-yard moving scrum into the end zone. Will Sullivan kicked his sixth extra point and that secured the final score with 6:32 remaining.

“We worked so hard from the very beginning,” Alexander said. “What the guys on the offensive line did for me... they blow guys off the line of scrimmage, so I have to run hard to show them I’m working just as hard as they are.”

That the offensive line meshed so well in this game is a tribute to the attitude, skill and capability of both coaches and, in this case, a player — Kyle Shifrin. All year, Shifrin has started as a tight end and linebacker. On this day, with a regular offensive lineman unavailable, Shifrin stepped into the role of offensive tackle. He and his O-line colleagues didn’t skip a beat as they carried out the tasks assigned to them. Cunningham had tweaked the offense as well to involve the halfbacks more and that strategy paid off as six backs (QB included) piled up almost 300 yards rushing.

Unselfishness will do that for you.

Then there is Robbie Hermann. For two years he was the go-to receiver for Wilton signal callers, the team’s best wide receiver. This year he still was a go-to receiver but the Warrior attack was built around the ground attack. The team was lucky if it averaged six pass attempts per game. So what did Hermann do? He went out and blocked.

“I take pride in my blocking. It’s fun,” he said. “It's been a big adjustment for me but what I care most about is getting those Ws.”

This year, Hermann moved to defense for the first time in his varsity career and held down a starting cornerback job. He had a banner year, intercepting four passes in one game to either tie or set a WHS varsity record. In fact, his number of interceptions for the year gave his number of receptions a run for the money.

When apprised of this, he laughed and said he had at one time played free safety so had some experience in the defensive backfield.

“The coaches really helped me with my footwork and having 10 guys around me giving support really helped, too.”

A.J. Pykosz had another of his routinely superb days on defense with a sack, multiple hurries, a recovered fumble and a tackle for a loss. He knows the value of what his teammates bring to him and what he can bring to them.

“Having two straight winning seasons feels good given what we’ve gone through together for the past two years,” he said. “I like playing offense and the feeling of making big holes in the line on offense. But when I think about it, I have to say that playing defense gives me more pleasure. I just love tackling.”

Every member of the team deserves a plug but these need to be acknowledged with the little space left here — Calabrese, the little field general surprising with his quickness and feistiness; WR Joe Murtha, the unsung ‘other corner’ and punt and kickoff return man extraordinaire; Andrew Luciano, the sophomore whose defensive end play was so capable and at times spectacular; co-captain Jack DiNanno, a mainstay at both guard and tackle on the offensive and defensive fronts, as was John Amato; Mike Wehrli at center; Trey Snyder on both defensive and offensive line; the linebackers — Herlyn, Alexander, Shifrin, Ryan McDermott, Eric Chubinsky and Drew Phillips; and Kyle Phillips, who manned the free safety position as well as started in the offensive backfield.

It is team that saw itself and its head coach through some rough water.

Said Cunningham: “For that and from my own personal circumstances, I’ll never forget them.”