Pictured: Tate Callender (10) was inserted at quarterback midway through the fourth quarter and engineered two key drives to help the H-K record a 21-14 win.
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM — Haddam-Killingworth coach Tyler Wilcox was looking for a little spark when he inserted Tate Callender at quarterback about midway through the fourth quarter.
What he got was a raging inferno.
Callender, who opened the season as the Cougars’ starting quarterback before injuring his wrist in the first quarter of the first game and only returned to action last week, engineered two key late-game drives to lift the Cougars to a 21-14 win over Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby.
The first of those drives led to the touchdown that broke a 14-14 tie with 3:43 left in Friday night’s Pequot Conference game. The second enabled the Cougars to run out the clock while keeping the Raiders’ offense off the field.
Callender, who played most of the game at wide receiver as well as at linebacker on defense, said after the game that he doesn’t really care whether he lines up as a wideout or at quarterback.
“All I want to do is help the team win games,” he said. “Wherever I can help the team is where I want to play.”
He added that Friday’s win could have a big impact on H-K’s final four games.
“This (win) means a lot because it gives us some momentum,” he said. “We have a tough schedule ahead of us so it’s good to be getting some extra confidence.”
Starting quarterback Alex Phipps played a strong game for the Cougars, leading them to a pair of first-quarter touchdowns and an early 14-0 lead.
Phipps, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, led a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive off the opening kickoff to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead. Phipps completed three passes for 30 yards on the drive, all to Callender, while running back Orion Inkel added 31 yards on the ground.
Inkel completed the drive by bursting into the end zone from nine yards out behind the blocking of linemen Kevin Fisher, Cooper Pitts and Chris Frasco, a freshman. Kevin Cavrell added the extra point to make it 7-0 at the 7:36 mark of the opening quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Callender intercepted Raider quarterback Aiden Walker’s pass and returned it eight yards to give the Cougar offense the ball at the Raider 30.
Phipps wasted no time in cashing in on the turnover, hitting Ryan Duncanson with a pretty spiral down the right sideline on H-K’s first play from scrimmage, stretching the Cougars’ lead to 14-0 with 2:16 left in the quarter.
Neither offense could move the ball through the first 11:30 of the second quarter and the Cougars appeared to be heading into halftime with a two-score lead until Phipps made his lone mistake of the game, tossing an errant pass that was intercepted and returned to the H-K 48 with 26 seconds left in the half.
On the very next play, Walker launched a pass about 30 yards downfield to Cy’heim Holness, who outjumped a shorter Cougar defender, hauled in the pass at the Cougar 20 and sprinted into the end zone. The Raiders then added two more points when Walker hit Kiernan Rudzik in the end zone to trim the Cougar lead to 14-8 at the half.
“I thought we were in pretty good shape at that point, especially since we were going to be getting the second-half kickoff,” Raiders coach Jason Qua said. “We did manage to tie the game up in that third quarter, but our offense stalled in the fourth quarter while our defense made some mistakes and missed some tackles.”
Windsor Locks tied the game late in the third quarter on an eight-play, 60-yard drive that featured a 44-yard Walker to Holness bomb and Walker’s 4-yard touchdown run. The Raiders’ attempt to take the lead with a two-point conversion fell incomplete, however, leaving the game tied at 14 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
After a Cougar punt, the Raiders drove to the H-K 19, but a 5-yard delay of game penalty against the visitors and a big stop of running back Troy Artis by Jayden Fulton and Pitts for a three-yard loss eventually led to a turnover on downs that brought the Cougar offense back onto the field at their own 23 with 7:34 left in the game.
Two runs by Inkel and Phipps’ 16-yard completion to Duncanson moved the ball to the Cougar 42, at which point Wilcox opted to move Callender behind the center.
“I thought we needed a spark,” the coach said. “I thought Alex had played a solid game to that point, but our offense had stalled a little in the third quarter and I just felt that Tate might help get us going.
“Tate also allows us to run more RPO (run-pass option) stuff.”
The Raiders never knew what hit them. On his first play at quarterback, Callender kept the ball and raced for 15 yards, but that gain was negated by a holding penalty.
Callender came right back by hitting Corey Phipps with his first pass of the game before adding eight more yards on another option run to bring the ball to the Windsor Locks 48. Two runs by Inkel, the second of which also produced a face mask penalty against the Raiders, followed by a 12-yard Callender to Corey Phipps completion that brought the ball to the 4.
After losing two yards on first-and-goal, Inkel scored his second touchdown of the game from the 6, and Cavrell’s third straight successful extra-point kick gave H-K a 21-14 lead with just under four minutes to play.
On Windsor Locks’ ensuing possession, Inkel and Duncanson knocked away successive Walker passes on third and fourth down to bring the H-K offense back onto the field at the Cougar 47 with 2:45 to go. Two plays after a clipping penalty nullified his 25-yard run, Callender, on third-and-13 from the Raider 44, rolled to his right and raced 39 yards to the Raiders’ 5 with 39 seconds left, sealing the Cougars’ second win of the season.
“I told him just roll out, pick up the first down if you can, but, whatever you do, hold onto the football,” Wilcox said, adding that he was particularly pleased with the play of his defense and of his two QBs, who were forced to take the field with three of their top pass receivers – Matteo Piacenti, Zenon Kolcio and Kevin Gamache out of the game with injuries.
“We’ve been trying to create a ‘next man up’ mentality around here with all the injuries we’ve had to deal with, and I think that’s what helped get us the win tonight.”
Inkel – who Qua called the best football player on the field and one of the Pequot League’s best running backs – finished with 79 yards on 24 carries plus nine more yards on two pass receptions. Duncanson caught three balls for 54 yards and Corey Phipps added two catches for 22 yards.
Callender completed 2 of his 3 passes for 22 yards, gaining 45 yards in four rushing attempts and catching three passes for 30 yards, with most of that damage coming in the second half of the final quarter.
“I told them at halftime that Windsor Locks was not going to go away quietly and that they’d have to dig deep in the second half because the game was going to be won by whoever wants it more,” Wilcox said.
Sometimes, all it takes to get your team to respond is a little spark.
Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby at North Branford, Nov. 5 at Oct. 29 at 6 p.m.; Haddam-Killingworth hosts Rockville, Nov. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
WL/S/EG…….. 0 8 6 0–14
H-K…………….14 0 0 7–21
HK: Inkel, 9-yard run (Cavrell kick)
HK: Duncanson, 30-yard pass from Alex Phipps (Cavrell kick)
WL- Holness, 48-yard pass from Walker (Rudzik pass from Walker)
WL- Walker, 4-yard run (pass failed)
HK- Inkel, 6-yard run (Cavrell kick)
Records: WL/S/EG 0-6; H-K 2-4.