WALTHAM — The Winchester High football team fought to the end, but could not prevent Waltham from coming away with a 21-13 non-league victory, Friday night at Leary Field.
Wal-tham never trailed in the game, and appeared on the verge of breaking it open a couple of times, but Winchester kept fighting, and had a chance to tie the game in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, only to come up short.
"It was a great battle for both teams, unfortunately we probably made 15 assignment errors on offense, missing tackles on defense," said Winchester coach Wally Dembowski, frustrated with the lack of execution by his team. "We didn't execute some things on defense, we didn't execute some things on special teams, hence we lose by eight."
The Red & Black went three and out on their first possession, and Waltham used an aerial attack via quarterback Jack Renaud once it took over at midfield. The Hawks were on the move when a Renaud pass in the red zone got away from him and was picked off by Winchester free safety Will Schlessinger, who returned the ball from the 10 to the 20.
Again, the Red & Black went three and out, and this time Waltham took over at its 47. On the first play of the second drive, Renaud looked long down the left side and found wide receiver Josh Registre for a 53-yard touchdown. Kicker Edwin Ramirez converted the first of three successful extra points for a 7-0 lead with 5:56 left in the opening quarter.
Winchester top weapon Derek Gianci joined the offensive game plan in the third series and it wasn't long before the Red & Black were on the move.
On third and seven from the 38, Gianci found a hole through the left side of the line and took off down the left sideline for 46 yards to the Waltham 16, where defensive back Owen Gaspar finally stopped him.
After an offsides penalty moved Winchester to the 11, Gianci went up the middle and found his way into the end zone. Ollie Wickramsinghe sent a kick that just made it over the line and over the bar to tie the game at 7-7 with 2:37 to play in the first.
Schlessinger made his second interception two plays into Waltham's next drive, but the Red & Black gave it back two plays later, on a fumbled exchange with Gianci at quarterback.
On the first play of the following drive, Renaud passed to the left side of the end zone, where Ty Connolly pulled in a 25-yard touchdown pass, and a 14-7 lead, with still 1:45 left in the opening quarter.
Winchester came close to getting the tying touchdown in its final drive of the half. The Red & Black started at the Waltham 40 following a 20-yard punt, and chiseled their way in the direction of the Hawk end zone over the next 10 plays, with Gianci as the primary ball carrier.
A pass interference penalty set Winchester up with a first and goal, just outside the five yard line. The Hawk defense bore down and stopped stopped Ryan Doucette on a couple carries, and Gianci on another, before Gianci was knocked out of bounds at the 2 after gaining seven yards on fourth down.
A 49-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter by Connolly set the Hawks up at the Winchester 16. On fourth and one from the seven, running back Darenn Duclas found his way into the end zone for a 21-7 Hawk lead.
"We're still young, we are going to make some boo-boos," said Dembowski, of the breakdown in special teams coverage. "Enough of the boo-boos. We have to coach them harder or find a way to coach them better. It doesn't sit well when you had a chance to win the thing."
Winchester went on a time-consuming drive on its subsequent possession and made it into the Waltham red zone, where the Red & Black had a first and 10 at the 15. After a one-yard carry by Doucette, three straight Gianci passes fell incomplete.
"Derek gave a great effort. He wasn't perfect but he played his tail off, full speed," said Dembowski. "He didn't cramp up. He gave us everything he had."
Waltham was nine plays into its next drive when quarterback Renaud dropped the ball in the backfield while going back to pass. Red & Black defensive lineman Pythagoras Caryannopoulos pounced on the fumble at the Hawk 35.
Winchester's offense was efficient this time. Gianci threw a pass to his left to Ben Wilson, who dashed down the sideline 30 yards to the five. Gianci scored on the next play, but the extra point was blocked, leaving it a 21-13 score with 9:57 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks put together a long drive with designs on clinching the victory with one more score. With a combination of passes to Connolly and runs by Duclas, Waltham advanced all the way to the Red & Black five yard line, where the drive stalled. Instead of going for it on fourth down, Waltham opted for a 24-yard field goal, which was wide right.
Starting the final drive from the 20, Winchester turned to passing quarterback Harry Lowenstein, whose first pass drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty to the 35. Two plays later, Gianci ripped off a 24-yard run to the Hawk 41.
But the drive stalled at that point and Noah Foy intercepted Lowenstein on third down at the 37.
"The kids did a nice job," said Dembowski. "Will Schlessinger, our free safety, did a great job. There are some guys that had great efforts. Not enough of them, we still have to clean up all the others, across the board, just about every position. There's still too many errors in game two, five weeks into the deal."
Winchester felt like it let one get away, between the two one-play Waltham scoring drives, and the breakdown and special teams coverage to start the second half.
"We're going to be in competition mode, come Monday, to see who's paying attention and doing things the right way," said Dembowski, about upcoming practices. "We've given guys two weeks, ample opportunity to prove themselves, and guys are still making the same mistakes. Next one up. I don't care if it's a freshman, I'm going to give everyone a chance to compete for that job. Obviously we have some issues we have to correct after losing a winnable game."
The Red & Black host Masconomet in a third non-league game, Friday night (7 p.m.) at Knowlton Stadium.