Watertown High football wins a thriller

Smith, Hairston power reigning Middlesex League champs to 38-35 win over Arlington Catholic

Amin Touri, Raider Times staff

A win’s a win, style points aside.

After an incredible 2014 season that included a perfect 7-0 regular season, the Watertown High football team opened up its 2015 campaign with a wild 38-35 victory over Arlington Catholic on Friday night, Sept. 11, at Victory Field.

After scoring with 1:29 to go to open a 38-27 lead, the Raiders seemed to have the game won, but a late Cougar touchdown and onside kick recovery gave the visitors new life with seconds remaining. A last-second Hail Mary was batted away by senior Tyler Poulin, and the Raiders escaped with the win.

“I thought we competed like we should compete,” said Watertown head coach John Cacace, “I thought it was awesome, the effort we gave. Was it pretty? Not so much, at times, but I thought our effort was outstanding, contributions from so many guys were outstanding, just a great win.”

With several key seniors graduating in the spring, including quarterback Nick Giordano, the Middlesex League MVP, there were some new faces stepping into key roles for the Raiders. Junior Deon Smith, in his first start at quarterback, had himself a career night on the ground, taking 20 carries for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns to lead the charge. Only throwing the ball a handful of times, the Raiders went with what was working.

“I think you gotta play to your team’s strengths,” Cacace said,  “I think you gotta play to what the defense is giving you, and Deon had a terrific day, he’s a terrific athlete, and he had a terrific first outing, so we’re hoping to see more of that.”

The Raiders got off to a great start on defense, as another new face, junior transfer Jayden Hairston, made an immediate impact as a Raider picking off Cougar quarterback Christian Rosati just a minute into the first quarter.

Hairston, a Watertown native transferring back from BB&N, also made an impact on the offensive side of the ball, taking a pitch from Smith and finding his way into the end zone from 5 yards out to put the Raiders up 6-0 with 2:12 left in the opening frame.

The Raiders had a tough night with extra points, only converting twice on six opportunities.

The Cougars came right back in the second quarter, as Rosati first kept the ball himself for a 6-yard touchdown run, then finding Nikko Martins through the air for a 68-yard touchdown — despite Raider appeals for a seemingly obvious offensive pass interference call — to put the Cougars up, 14-6.

Things got even worse when Smith, in his only major mistake of the night, tried to pitch the ball back to Hairston as he was brought down in the backfield, but Martins picked up the ball and ran it back for a 52-yard touchdown and a 21-6 lead.

“I think in the first drive, we came out flying, we were really hyped for the first game,” said Watertown senior captain Stevie Mey, “and then they started to get some big plays on third and long, a couple kids got beat, and the defense started to break down a little bit. We were a little hesitant, a little tired.”

With less than a minute to go in the first half on fourth and 19, Smith found Poulin in the end zone for a vital 24-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-12.

Smith’s first touchdown on the ground came with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter, as the Raiders junior broke multiple tackles and dragged three defenders into the end zone on a spectacular 30-yard run, leaving things at 21-19.

The Raiders got the ball right back, as Mey put a big hit on Rosati to force a fumble, and jumping on the loose ball for the recovery. Though the Raiders couldn’t capitalize on that turnover, they converted their next stop into points. Smith rumbled 49 yards to the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, and the Raiders went up, 25-21.

The Cougars answered right back, as Roasti hit Jack Ryan on the next play from scrimmage for a 77-yard touchdown and a 27-25 lead.

Set up by a huge 73-yard punt return from Hairston to give the Raiders the ball inside the Cougars’ 20, Watertown continued the high-scoring affair, as Smith punched the ball in from 1 yard out to make the score 31-27 with 4:59 remaining.

With 1:42 to go, the Raiders made a huge stop on fourth and long, taking over on downs and looking to run out the clock. However, Smith had other ideas, again dragging multiple defenders on his back on his way to yet another touchdown run, this time from 38 yards out, to put the Raiders up, 38-27, and seemingly seal the game with 1:29 to go.

There was, however, time for more drama.

Rosati found Spencer Burton in the end zone to cut the lead to 38-35 with 10 seconds remaining. It was however, too little too late, as the Raiders held their ground, squeaking out the victory.

Despite the win, there’s still plenty to work on for this Raider team.

“I think our execution was a little off at times,” said Cacace,  “it’s just a matter of cleaning up a few things. I thought our effort was terrific, and I think for a new team with a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball, that we’ll get better with our execution.”

The Raiders will next hit the road to face Mount Pleasant High School in Providence this Saturday. They then begin their Middlesex League title defense against Wakefield the following Friday.

“Honestly, the way this game went, I think just gotta take it one week at a time,” said Mey. “I really don’t think we underestimated this team. We knew we were going to have a battle, and this is one of the toughest games I’ve ever played, so we just gotta take it one game at a time.”

–Sept. 13, 2015–