Stout Warriors defense and late-game offensive resolve won the day in South Windsor Sunday as the Warriors C-team defeated the South Windsor Maroon Panthers 13-6 in the Connecticut Youth Football League Orange Bowl Tournament Championship.
Under a beautiful and sunny, 62 degree sky on Nov. 4, South Windsor opened with their run-based offense and outside threat driving steadily down the field into Warrior territory. Ultimately the Panthers were thwarted by the trademark “bend-but-don’t-break” defense that has come to define this group of 9, 10, and 11 year old Warriors.
The Warriors defense established from the first snap that there would be no joy up the middle on this day for South Windsor as defensive linemen, Calvin Holliday, James Carlson, Carter Gavin and Ian Fratarcangeli relentlessly disrupted the runs to the outside with constant penetration into the backfield..
After two three-and-outs, the Warriors offense powered up the middle for their initial first down. Mackin then ran a sweep for five yards setting the stage for two beautiful pass completions from quarterback Josh Burke to Ryan McGoldrick for 10 yards and then to Tristan Witzgall for 15 yards. McGoldrick followed his catch with a poised running move back to the inside gaining a net 10 yards and a first down even while a Warrior penalty after the catch subtracted 19 yards from the play.
The Warriors offensive line, (led by center Donovan Mackin and pulling guard Carter Gavin) protected Burke on those pass plays and would prove to be decisive late in the game. But this drive was not to be. After powering to the South Windsor 12 yard line, the Warriors turned the ball over on downs.
That would be the story in the first half of this game as the Panthers made it inside the red zone three times against the Warriors but were left scoreless by a defense led by Defensive Captain Donovan Mackin and fellow inside linebacker Brian Connolly. Mackin could be found wherever a tackle was being made on the field and Connolly’s blitzes would continue to frustrate South Windsor all game.
Notched at 0-0 at the end of the first half, the stage was set for a battle of defensive wills.
Colin Mackin opened the second half with an exciting 64 yard kick-off return for a touchdown. After struggling with blocking on special teams through the season, the Warriors showed tremendous improvement with punishing blocks throughout the return. Mackin darted and weaved and ultimately cut back inside as he reached the sideline at the South Windsor 35. He ran untouched the rest of the way. Mackin finished the day with 108 yards on the ground and a TD including 16 carries and the kick-off return.
With this first touchdown strike under their belt the Warriors stepped up with more of their trademark defense. South Windsor hoped to answer the Warrior kick-off return with one of their own and for several nervous seconds it appeared that they would until Donovan and Colin Mackin made a score-saving tackle at the Warrior 9 yard line. However, the Warriors could not be demoralized and denied South Windsor their end zone. The next four South Windsor plays led to no or negative yardage as DT Ian Fratarcangeli and DE Max Cormier stuffed a sweep to the left for a loss of four yards. Then LB Donovan Mackin and DE Josh Burke collapsed a hole on the right for no gain. Next, Anthony Bedard, charging in on a blitz from his safety position, dove and tripped up the South Windsor halfback running to the right. On fourth down Carter Gavin executed a perfect stunt from his DT position and solo tackled the Panther running back for a five yard loss, ensuring South Windsor would turn the ball over on downs.
Succeeding drives by South Windsor revealed a host of Warrior heroes. Frankie Flaherty saved a touchdown on a run down the Panther sideline and Ryan McGoldrick’s number 85 kept popping up at the bottom of the tackle piles. James Carlson and Calvin Holliday shared the grueling punishment of continuous double teams at their nose guard position, rarely giving an inch of ground and providing the bulwark that denied their opponent the middle of the field. Also turning in stellar performances were Max Cormier and Nathan Peterson.
With just over 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, both sides felt the wear of a hard-fought battle on the gridiron. South Windsor struck late, putting together a 66 yard drive for touchdown, matching the game at 6-6. With great resolve, the Warriors thwarted the extra-point run by the Panthers, and the teams remained tied with only 4:01 remaining in the game.
Ian Fratarcangeli nimbly handled the ensuing line-drive kick-off and muscled through a cadre of Panther tacklers to set up possession for one final Warriors drive.
On the first play from scrimmage, the Warriors offensive line found fifth gear, springing Brian Connolly to the left side for the first of 6 carries totaling 41 yards as the Warriors marched 51 yards down the field. With just 10 seconds left, the Warriors offensive line won the day. As the backs faked sweep right, the line surged and Connolly ran up the backs of Left Guard James Carlson and Tackle Ian Fratarcangeli breaking across the goal line for the touchdown. Burke swept to the outside and fought to just inside the pylon to add the extra point.
With only seconds remaining the Warrior kick-off was then returned by the Panthers to the Warrior 42 yard line providing time for only one more play. South Windsor chose a run to their right which held the promise of victory until deep safety Tristan Witzgall made the tackle at the 26 yard line to end the game. The Warriors celebrated their way off the field as CTYFL Orange Bowl Champions with a final score of 13 to 6.
Open to youth from Canton, Avon, Harwinton and Burlington, Warriors Youth Football has opened early registration for next football season; families who register early with a deposit by 12/15/12 will receive a $50 discount off registration. www.WarriorsFBC.com