Warriors mark 50th Homecoming at Memorial Stadium with dominating win

Running time came early for the Wilton High varsity football team last Saturday afternoon, as the Warriors racked up six touchdowns in the first half, and a field goal early in the second, before Stamford could penetrate the scoreboard at Wilton’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The result was a 45-14 win in what was the 50th Homecoming at Wilton since the naming of Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The Warriors (4-3) travel to play the state’s top-ranked team, Darien, on Friday night at 6:30.

Saturday’s Homecoming win was over before halftime. After Harvey Alexander scored his fourth rushing TD late in the first half to make the score 35-0, officials by rule moved to “running time,” allowing seconds to flow off the clock unimpeded despite first downs, out-of-bounds plays, and incomplete passes.

Though there was just over a minute left in the half, the Warriors managed another touchdown as Kyle Schifrin intercepted a Terry Forrester pass and returned it 40 yards for a pick-six. Will Sullivan kicked his sixth and final extra point of the day with 43 seconds for a 42-0 halftime lead.

Wilton was dominant in all phases of the game. On the ground, the Warriors were so overpowering that there was no need to pass, although quarterback Brian Calabrese did pass twice, completing a 12-yard screen pitch to Drew Phillips.

Otherwise, the Warriors rushed for 285 yards, some 230 of that coming in the first half via Alexander (49 yards, four TDs), Drew Herlyn (85 yard on six carries), Calabrese (27 of his 47 yards on the day), Drew Phillips (33-yard TD run), and Kyle Phillips (27 yards on six carries).

Those totals might have been even higher but for a stifling defense and good special teams play which provided a short field on many occasions.

What amounted to six turnovers — four interceptions, a recovered fumble and a tackled punter on fourth down at the Black Knight five-yard line — was indicative of just how overwhelming the defense was. Add to that multiple tackles for losses, sacks (Jack DiNanno, AJ Pykosz) and hurries and it was a long day for Stamford QB Forrester.

Linebacker Andrew Luciano spent a notable amount of time in the Stamford backfield harassing the quarterback as well as compiling three tackles for a loss. It was Mike Angergame who sacked the punter at the Black Knight five-yard line.

And then there was Joe Murtha, who not only had two interceptions (Shifrin and Kyle Phillips had the others) but also was a special teams standout, returning the opening kickoff 22 yards to the Wilton 45 and having a punt return of 16 yards and a TD, in addition to a 67-yard return thwarted due to a penalty.

Max Colburn’s 25-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the third quarter put the Warriors up 45-0.

Stamford got on the board in the fourth quarter when Jayden Dawkins’ five-yard plunge capped off a 61-yard drive with 6:02 left. After Bryce Kijek’s recovery of an onside kick, the Knights drove 43 yards to score on a three-yard blast by Dawkins with 1:15 remaining in the game.

It was a fitting victory in many ways. An emotionally tumultuous two weeks saw the loss of head coach Bruce Cunningham’s father cast its long shadow over the Wilton football community, putting into perspective what matters most. The hard-to-take defeat at Ridgefield, though hardly a matter of life and death, still added to an overall somberness that could have devolved into a funk. But it didn’t.

“It’s a credit to the senior class,” said Cunningham. “They kept the pulse of the team right. They didn’t let it get too high or too low. Those five seniors on the offensive line (Pykosz, DiNanno, John Amato, Trey Snyder and Mike Wehrli) work their tails off, work so hard in practice to do the things they need to do right during a game.”

“We lost our big week,” co-captain Alexander said, referring to the team’s tough 17-3 loss to Ridgefield. “We knew we had to be ready this week for Stamford’s offense and defense.”

“We knew they were good,” added co-captain Jack DiNanno, “but we knew what we needed to get ready for — certain fronts, certain other things.”

“In this game, we had good drops on defense, and on defense and offense our guys upfront adjusted,” said Alexander. “They blitzed a lot and we picked them up.”

“A lot of people who could contribute, did,” Cunningham said. “We used them all. Our receivers did some job on the edge blocking. We barely threw the ball today. They helped all the running backs who run hard and can all block for each other.”

There was some whispering, maybe a raised eyebrow or two, when with an apparently insurmountable lead, Cunningham sent his starting unit out on defense to begin the second half.

“It was the 50th Homecoming of the naming of Veterans Memorial Stadium,” explained Cunningham. “The 50th Homecoming honoring the Wilton men (eight in Vietnam, one in Iraq) who died serving their country. The stadium is named after them. It’s a big moment and I wanted to make sure the seniors got to savor it. After all they have done, especially through the past two weeks, they earned the right to stay out there.”