MERIDEN — It had been five weeks and five days since the Wilcox/Kaynor Tech football team had last tasted victory.
Not to get biblical, but welcome back from the desert, boys.
Playing the sort of team-first ball head coach Alonzo Relaford craves, the Warcats notched a 21-13 victory over Quinebaug Valley on Friday night in a competitive, old-school CTC game at Falcon Field.
Competitive in that the game wasn’t decided until the fourth quarter.
Old school in that it featured old-fangled visions such as the power-I, the wishbone and the quarterback under center more times than not.
Dang if it wasn’t a whole lot of throw-back fun that left both teams at 4-5 and snapped a four-game slide for the host Warcats, who were playing in their home finale.
“Every game should be like this,” Relaford told his team in the post-game huddle before doffing his cap to his players.
“Complete-game effort, team effort,” Relaford elaborated afterward. “The second half, they figured it out. I just challenged them, especially the seniors. I said, ‘This is your last home game; you guys have got to find out where you want to go and what you want to do.’”
Win, it turns out, and win for the first time ever against the Quinebaug Valley co-op of Ellis Tech, Putnam and Tourtellotte.
Wilcox/Kaynor’s rotating quarterbacks, Malik Sanchez (12-59) and Logan Stone (10-65), combined for 124 rushing yards and all three touchdowns. Stone opened the scoring with a naked bootleg from 11 yards in the first quarter. Sanchez pushed the ’Cats ahead in the third from 3 yards, then iced it from 4 in the fourth.
Running backs Xavion Saucer (7-42) and Andrew Boyle (6-41) combined for 83 more yards behind a dominant offensive line centered by Sergio Mendoza, with Hunter Budris and Omar Sandoval at guards, and Clay Adkins and Keidi Pena at tackle.
The defense, led by the front four of tackles Cherod Brown and C.J. Morgan and ends Christian Kruger and Gavin Davis, made five fourth-down stops to halt Quinebaug drives, including two straight in the red zone in the first half.
One of the Quinebaug TDs allowed by the defense came off a Wilcox/Kaynor fumble at the 12-yard line one snap after a red-zone stop. That second-quarter score had the game knotted 7-7 at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Wilcox/Kaynor D produced a turnover and it was the point upon which the game pivoted.
Quinebaug had shot ahead 13-7 on an 88-yard breakaway by Deven Lamothe and then turned the Warcats over on downs at midfield.
Just as prospects started to dim for the home team, linebacker Uzziah Nelson stepped in front of a pass and returned it 24 yards to the Quinebaug 22.
Revival on a dime: Wilcox/Kaynor loaded up the Wildcat formation, ran six plays with three different ballcarriers and cashed in on a 3rd-and-3 taken up the gut by Sanchez.
Kicker Nick Barros, despite being knocked out of his cornerback spot by injury in the early going, came on and kicked the extra point to put the Warcats ahead 14-13 with 1:47 remaining in the third quarter.
“That changed the whole game,” linebacker Patrick LaChance said of the interception. “Same with our kicker Nick. He got hurt and he played through it, made our extra points and kickoffs. He’s a dawg; I love that kid.
“Today was a great game,” added LaChance, who rattled bones all night at linebacker (12 tackles) and fullback. “We played with our hearts all the way through the fourth quarter. We didn’t back down once.”
Indeed, as the game spilled into the fourth quarter and Quinebaug spilled into Wilcox/Kaynor territory, the Warcats stiffened and stuffed an inside run on 4th-and-4 at the 36.
Taking over with 9:06 to play, the Warcats launched another Wildcat drive, with Sanchez and Stone alternating carries, that covered 65 yards in 11 plays and ate 6:14 off the clock.
By the time Sanchez went around right end for the final 4 yards and Barros came on to boot his third PAT, only 2:52 remaining on the clock.
Which was still enough time for Quinebaug, trailing 21-13 and in need of a TD and a two-point conversion to tie.
Taking over at their own 35, the Pride went looking for their prime aerial targets, rangy receiver Jakeem Wilson and rugged tight end Lyric Teevan.
The Wilcox/Kaynor secondary and pass rush were up to the challenge, applying tight coverage and pressure on each snap. Even when a pass was completed, it was quickly contained by the likes of outside linebacker Alex Ortiz (10 tackles).
Quinebaug gained one first down when QB Drew Gisleson snuck on 4th-and-1. That would be it. Three incompletions and one sack later, it was over, with Sanchez knocking down a fourth-down attempt over the middle to Wilson.
The Warcats went into Victory formation and two teams that had fiercely slugged it out for 48 minutes spent the final seconds shaking hands.
“Good win, good win — big win,” said Adkins, the senior tackle from Wilcox. “It was everything to me. It was everything to all the seniors. It was everything to the whole team. I’m so happy we can walk out of here with a smile on our faces.”
Adkins and the Warcats now turn their attention to the Route 66 Bowl with VGW Techs on Wednesday night in Middletown. The season finale kicks off at Pat Kidney Field at 6 p.m.
“Going in real strong with this win; I hope we can pull out another win,” said Adkins. “I’ve got high hopes, that’s all I can say. I’ve got high hopes.”
This will be the eighth annual holiday meeting between the Meriden- and Middletown-based teams. (VGW Techs comprises Vinal Tech, the host school, Goodwin Tech and Whitney Tech.)
The Warcats won in 2022 and 2021, but still trail 3-4 in the series. With a win, they’ll complete a second straight 5-5 season under Relaford.
The team had hoped for better. After four games, when Wilcox-Kaynor stood 3-1, a winning season certainly seemed in the offing, and it would have been the first in Wilcox football history.
Instead, the four-game losing streak followed, with missing personnel often playing a significant role.
“We have some players that stand out, and they weren’t around, and we needed that full blend,” said Relaford.
Friday’s win over Quinebaug took the edge off the disappointment and frustration, leaving the Warcats at peace with the thought of finishing the year strong and heading into the offseason on the right foot.
“I don’t want a losing season,” said Relaford. “Going .500 is fine with me.”
“It should have been way better,” Relaford added. “We should have had a couple more wins under the belt, but (we didn’t) due to the team not following directions and some people doing their own thing — ‘I Guys,’ we call them.
“But, for the most part, they know what they’re doing and next year should be better.”