WINCHESTER — Opening night for the Winchester High football team was interesting, just as coach Wally Dembowski had predicted.
The Red & Black went through all four of their quarterbacks and held a 13-0 halftime lead before cramping and Newton South caught up with them in the second half. The Lions scored the first four touchdowns of the second half to take a 27-19 triumph, Friday night at Knowlton Stadium.
Both teams struggled on offense in the early going before Winchester put together consecutive scoring drives. Both sophomore Ben Wilson and senior Derek Gianci saw time at quarterback in the first half, with Gianci rushing for two touchdowns.
The Red & Black started losing players to cramping in the third quarter, including Gianci, who only got two touches in the second half and led all running backs with 18 carries for 75 yards.
Wilson also cramped up while attempting to catch a pass from third quarterback Jack Costello, as did as a few other Winchester players.
Newton South took advantage of the loss of momentum for the Red & Black and scored on four consecutive possessions to take control of the game, 27-13.
"Newton South played a good game," said Dembowski, of the Lions. "They made some mistakes in the first half and we were able to capitalize on them, which was fantastic to see. We lost a little momentum in the second half and they capitalized when we made some boo-boos. So we're a young team, we have a lot to learn."
Both teams struggled on their first two possessions before Winchester got things going on its third try on offense. The Red & Black covered 57 yards on seven running plays.
Gianci picked up seven yards on the first two carries before Wilson picked up a first down in Lions' territory with an eight-yard run. Wilson got another first down with a 13-yard run to end the first quarter, and then Gianci galloped for 18 to start the second quarter, giving Winchester a first and goal at the 8.
On the next play, Gianci went around left, put on a spin move at the three, and went into the end zone for the first touchdown of the season. The extra point try was no good but the Red & Black had the lead, 6-0.
On the first play of Newton South's next drive, the ball carrier was hit as soon as he got the ball, fumbling the ball forward where Giance, playing inside linebacker, made the recovery at the Lion 40.
Gianci took over at quarterback and tried to go for the home run ball down the left side, only to have his receiver break up a possible interception. In other words, the defense was not fooled. Gianci handed off to Ryan Doucette on a draw on the next play, and he went for 21 yards for a first down at the Lion 19.
With Wilson back at quarterback, he hit Doucette for an eight-yard completion on second down to give Winchester a first and goal at the 9. On second and 14, Gianci took charge again, running for 10 yards and four yards for his second touchdown. Ollie Wickramsinghe hit the extra point to give the Red & Black a 13-0 lead with 7:51 left before halftime.
After going without a first down on its first three possessions, the Lions hit back-to-back first downs on pass plays for 37 and 14 yards from quarterback Everson Quissanga to wide receivers Patrick Sullivan and Jack Foster.
This set up Newton South at the Winchester 11, where Zach Gabriel ran the ball up the middle for seven yards to the 4. On the next play, Quissanga fumbled the snap and Winchester recovered at the 4.
The Red & Black was unable to do much with that field position, and the Lions started their next possession at the Winchester 23. On the second play, Quissanga was intercepted by safety Will Schlessinger at the 5. He returned it to the Winchester 28.
Despite moving the ball well on their next drive, time ran out on the Red & Black as they reached the Newton South 30.
The Lions began their rally on their second possession of the third quarter. Quissanga began to find his range again with back to back completions to Foster and Sullivan for a combined 20 yards to the Winchester 20, where the Lions faced a second and one. Two carries by Gabriel for 9 and 6 yards set Newton South up at the five. It was fourth and five when Quissanga stopped working the perimeter and hit wide receiver Graham Tokonogy over the middle for the touchdown and a 13-6 score.
"We're young upfront and they (Lions) started to bring some pressure in the second half, and we struggled with it," said Dembowski. "We kind of lost some momentum there."
The Lions got the ball on the Red & Black 40 to start their next possession. Facing a 3rd-and-15, Tokonogy took a handoff on a jet sweep around the left side, cut back to the right and continued down the right side into the end zone on a 45-yard touchdown run. Kamraan Daftary hit this extra point and it was a tie game at 13-13 with 3:18 to play in the third.
"We lost more than Derek, we were playing third- and fourth-string guys because we had guys cramping up on every play," said Dembowski. "We have to look at all the different things we are doing and figure out what's going on."
Winchester lost 16 yards on a pair of sacks on its next series, and the Newton South soon had the ball back again, this time at its 37 following a 10-yard punt return by Foster. On third and 10, Gabriel ripped off a 34-yard run, followed by a 22-yard scamper by Foster, giving the Lions a first and goal at the 7 to start the fourth quarter.
Foster got the ball on the first play in the fourth and scored from 7 yards out as the Lions went in front to stay, 20-13.
Newton South recovered a fumble two plays into Winchester's next series, giving them great field position once more for a possible insurance touchdown score. That came on 4th-and-13 when Quissanga went down the right sideline with an arcing pass and hit Sullivan in stride for a 37-touchdown strike, and a 27-13 lead with 9:00 left.
"I'm not mad at them," said Dembowski. "We have a lot of inexperience out there and each week we're going to get a little better. It's going to be a challenge as we go, but if we can execute a little bit, communicate a little better, we'll be okay."
Harry Lowenstein relieved Jack Costello to become the fourth Winchester quarterback of the game, and he guided the Red & Black to a last-second touchdown. Lowenstein kept a drive alive with a 24-yard completion to Bronner Keough on 4th-and-13, followed with a 31-yard touchdown toss to Thomas Centurelli on the last play of the game and the 27-19 final.
"I told them it's going to be a battle, now go win the job," said Dembowski. "Don't just sit on the sideline, jump in and compete. Whether you're given a look or you're working with the first team, every rep counts."
Winchester will play its first road game, Friday night (6 p.m.) when the Red & Black travel to Leary Field to take on Waltham.