WINCHESTER — With the temperatures about 30 degrees higher than they were, last year, and with some good offensive weapons going on each side, many thought there would be a lot of points in this year’s 118th edition of the Woburn-Winchester High football rivalry. Instead the constant gusting winds, and then rain throughout the second half helped make it a defensive battle.
The Sachems got a touchdown run and a touchdown pass from Tommy Degnan in the second quarter, and that stood up the rest of the way in a 14-7 final, yesterday at Knowlton Stadium. With the victory, the Sachems extend their lead in the all-time series to 55-51-12.
The Tanners scored in the first two minutes of the game and were constantly on the move through the rest of the game. But Winchester kept coming up big defensively to shut out Woburn over the last 46 minutes of the contest.
“It doesn’t matter what the records are because year-in and year-out, it’s a battle,” said Winchester coach Wally Dembowski, whose team finished 9-2 for the first time since 2009. “You saw it here, today.”
Every Tanner drive ended in Sachem territory, and Winchester did not do much of anything in the second half offensively, but the defense held strong throughout.
“They did a great job of running the ball,” said Dembowski. “We had some big stops on defense and that’s a product of their hard work all year.”
Woburn was riding a three-game winning streak by virtue of a power running game. The Tanners again moved the ball but they just could not turn their drives into points.
“We executed the way we wanted to today but we just couldn’t finish inside the 20,” said Woburn coach Jack Belcher. “The emotions are pretty raw right now but when we look at it in an analytical way, we are going to say what I’m saying right now: we couldn’t finish drives.”
Woburn won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Tanners put the heat on right away and the Sachems fumbled on the handoff exchange on the second play from scrimmage at the 22. The ball got knocked forward a couple times before Symon Sathler fell on it at the Winchester 7.
A two-yard carry by Mike Koussa, followed by a three-yard run for David Langlois, paved the way for a two-yard touchdown for quarterback Jaden Simonds. Ayub Essouabni added the extra point and the Tanners were fired up.
Winchester went three-and-out on its next series and a 10-yard punt gave Woburn the ball back at the Sachem 30. The Tanners picked up one first down on Sathler’s first run of the game, but a 10-yard penalty moved them back to the 24, and then a fumbled snap ended the drive as Jake Errico came up with the loose ball for Winchester.
The Sachems also took a 10-yard penalty to immediately put them in a hole. Two runs from Degnan got 16 yards and created a third and four, before Langlois and Sathler combined on a sack for a two-yard loss.
Another punt into the wind went nowhere, and Woburn once again had great field position at the 35. The Tanners went for it on fourth and eight, and the combination of Degnan and cornerback Sam McDonald stopped Koussa two yards short.
“That first quarter we had was horrific,” said Dembowski. “Those two punts we had averaged about seven yards, I think, and we turned the ball over once. They had a couple drives and the scoring one was seven yards.”
Winchester finally got something going on its fourth drive, getting first downs on its first two plays, a 10-yard Degnan keeper and a 12-yard run off left tackle for Jimmy Gibbons.
Gibbons put the Sachems in Woburn territory for the first time on his next carry before a Degnan run gave Winchester a first down at the Tanner 40 as the first quarter ended.
Later in the drive, back-to-back 10-yard carries by Gibbons and Degnan got the Sachems a first and goal at the seven. Three plays later, Degnan scored his 18th rushing touchdown of the season from four yards out, and Mario Caloiero’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
Sathler started Woburn’s next drive with a 17-yard run to the 45, and two plays later the Tanners were back in Sachem territory. Degnan at middle linebacker arose to the occasion, sticking Sathler for a four-yard loss, and then sacking Simonds for a four-yard loss on third and 11.
After the only Woburn punt of the game, Winchester drove 83 yards on five plays, the big one a 58-yard run by Degnan down to the Tanner 9. Yahya Aksadi made a big stick on Derek Gianci for a two-yard loss. On the next play, Degnan completed an 11-yard pass to Patrick Ross in the right side of the end zone for a 14-7 lead with two minutes left in the half.
“Number 16 (Degnan) is the MVP of the league for a reason, he’s a good player,” said Belcher. “And they have other good players, too.”
“Tommy made a bunch of plays, but so did Aria Manfred, Jake Errico and Adam Bischoff,” said Dembowski, about his defense. “They all made fantastic plays and the unit played great today.”
Woburn had an 11-play drive before halftime, but could only get as far as the Sachem 33 before time ran out in the half.
The Tanners got the ball to start the second half, as the rain began to fall. They picked up five first downs on the 18-play drive, but ended up with no points to show for it. The key play came on a third and one at the Winchester 14, with Bischoff nailing a Woburn back for an 11-yard loss. Fourth and 12 resulted in an incomplete pass.
An interception on the first play of the next Sachems’ drive by Koussa set the Tanners up at their 35. That led to another drive down to the Winchester 25 before it ended with a Simonds six-yard scramble coming up two yards short of the line to gain.
Time was becoming a factor and two first downs for the Sachems, one on a Derek Gianci 16-yard run, ate up valuable time before Winchester punted again.
Woburn got the ball on its 45 and as the game wound down under a minute, Jakob Flores came up with an interception on fourth and four to clinch the outcome.
“It’s been a great ride with a lot of classy guys in the senior class,” said Dembowski. “They taught these younger kids a lot about the game, today. It was a lot of fun.”
“I’m so proud of how our kids fought, especially our seniors, right down to when there were zeroes on the clock,” said Belcher. “It’s hard to lose like that on Thanksgiving.”