NEWTON — Winchester High football coach Wally Dembowski is pleased to see his squad 2-0 after two games, but he was not happy with the way the Sachems played in their 23-6 victory over Newton South, Saturday afternoon at Winkler Stadium.
Part of the season is Winchester ran the ball for nearly 300 yards and had close to 400 yards of total offense, but only scored two offensive touchdowns, and they came three minutes apart, late in the second quarter.
The defense and special teams had a tremendous day, holding the Lions to just 64 yards total offense, with 33 coming on a late touchdown run against the Sachem backups. There was also a safety and a 46-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jakob Flores, the only Winchester score of the second half.
“Our defensive line played well today, our offensive line did not play very well, today,” said Dembowski. “That’s a fact. We had too many penalties. We play like that against Lexington (next opponent) and it’s going to be a long night.”
The most surprising aspect of the game was how ineffective Newton South was on Saturday, compared to the first two meetings, the last two years, in which each team won a close game at home.
The Lions returned two of their top skill players, quarterback Angelo Rodriguez and running back Raekwon Washington, but they could hardly get out of the backfield at
times on the ground, and had trouble completing the most routine pass plays, early in the game, which set the tone for the rest of the day.
The Newton South defense did make some plays, however, forcing a fumble inside the five to stop one Winchester drive, forcing the Sachems to punt four times, and stopping them on downs four times.
“It’s wonderful to be 2-0. However, if we play like that in league play, we’re not going to win a game,” said Dembowski. “We didn’t tackle great in some instances, and we didn’t get things done when we needed to.”
The Lions got the ball first and they had to punt after a Washington carry for no gain, and two incomplete swing passes.
The Sachems mostly stuck with their ground game on their first three drives.
Quarterback Tommy Degnan (16-73) carried for 17 yards on the first play from scrimmage for Winchester, and running back Jimmy Gibbons (20-124) followed with carries of 9 and 2 for another first down.
The first of the Sachems’ eight penalties, an illegal procedure call, followed and helped end the momentum of the drive and forced the first of the four punts.
Washington picked up nine yards on the first play of Newton South’s next drive, but then the Lions went backwards, and again went three-and-out.
Winchester got the ball back at the 48 and featured running back Derek Gianci (11-97) on its second drive. The sophomore went for 32 yards on his first carry, and then for 15 more, two plays later, only to fumble at the end of the run. Newton South recovered at the four.
The drive was not a total loss, though, as two plays later, Washington was swarmed under in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Sachem lead after one quarter.
After turning the ball over on downs following a 13-play, 44-yard drive, at the Lion 21, on the next series, Winchester scored touchdowns on its last two drives before halftime.
The first scoring drive went 54 yards in six plays, was keyed by two Degnan pass completions to wide receiver Henry Kraft, good for 16 and 22 yards, respectively, with a 20-yard run for Gibbons in between. The second completion to Kraft (5-59) gave the Sachems a first and goal at the two, and Gianci scored over right tackle on the next play. The kick was no good and Winchester led, 8-0, with 3:28 left in the second quarter.
Newton South went without a first down for the fifth drive in a row, leaving the Sachems with a first down at their 32 with 2:06 left before halftime.
Runs by Gibbons and Degnan had the ball across the 50 and into Lion territory quickly, but then came two incomplete passes. Degnan scrambled for 11 yards on third down, but fumbled as he was being brought down. Fortunately for Winchester, wide receiver Patrick Ross was there to pounce on the loose ball at the Newton South 35.
The Lion defense made the Sachems for the next first down, which came with Degnan getting three yards on a quarterback sneak on fourth and inches. Degnan ran for 11 yards, two plays later, for another first down, before finding Ross in the left corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown toss. Winchester used its version of the “Philly Special” for the two-point conversion, with Kraft throwing to an uncovered Degnan for a 16-0 lead at the half.
The Sachems got the ball to start the third quarter and Gibbons ripped off a 53-yard run up the middle on the first play from scrimmage, giving them a first down at the Lion 26. A holding penalty killed the momentum of the drive soon after, and Winchester turned the ball over on downs.
The next two drives saw Newton South forcing the Sachems to punt, the second of which came on the first play of the fourth quarter. Each of these drives started following interceptions by Flores and Camilo Vozzella.
A third drive lasted awhile, but again ended with Winchester punting following two more holding penalties.
The Sachems’ defense continued to shine on Newton South’s next drive. It started on the 15 and began with a Degnan sack back to the 10. On third down, Winchester was credited with another sack back to the one when Rodriguez threw a pass at one of his linemen while under pressure. The ensuing punt bounced to Flores at the 46 and he worked his way to the right before cutting up field and returning the punt for a touchdown. Mario Caloiero kicked the extra point for a 23-0 lead.
Kraft came up with the third Sachem interception of the day on the first play of the next drive. Before the game ended, Anthony Maregni took off on a 33-yard run through a Winchester defense filled with players fresh off the bench.
The Sachems have a bye week coming up this week and Winchester will spend it fine-tuning the offense and defense in preparation of the upcoming five-game Liberty Division schedule.
“We got a lot of work to do in the off week,” said Dembowski. “Yes it feels good to be 2-0, and we haven’t been 2-0 since I’ve been here (sic). I’m glad we get a chance over the next week to keep working to where our (offensive) line needs to get.”
Winchester’s next game is at Lexington on Friday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m.
(Winchester started the season 3-0 in 2018.)