Patrick Battista's Fairfield Giants Junior Midgets teammates call him sneaky. Coaches call him smart. Waterbury players and coaches called him a lot of other things after he scored the game-winning touchdown on a 33-yard punt return Sunday. Battista's run lifted the Giants to a 12-6 victory over Waterbury in the semifinals of the Division I Southern Connecticut Pop Warner playoffs.
Faced with fourth and long on its own 22, Waterbury punted and got off a short kick to the 33-yard line. Players raced toward the ball. Waterbury players did not touch it, however, and play seemingly stopped. Battista alertly picked up the ball and scooted untouched into the end zone.
"They weren't paying attention , so I just decided to grab it and go,'' Battista said. "I never looked back and just kept going."
The Giants' defense took over from there, allowing Waterbury just 26 yards of total offense in the second half. "That was pretty amazing,'' coach Hans Isler said. "It was a heads-up play. Patrick has a good knowledge of the game. He's a pleasure to have on our team."
The Junior Midgets, who went to the Pop Warner Super Bowl last year and finished fourth in the nation in the Pee Wee Division, were tested by Waterbury. The Giants scored first on a 5-yard touchdown run by Chris Howell with 4:48 remaining in the second quarter. Waterbury tied it on a long touchdown run later in the quarter. That set the stage for Battista's surprising third-quarter punt return.
The Junior Midgets play for the state championship this weekend in West Haven, and then have to win two games to capture the New England title to return to Florida and the Super Bowl. The Giants look particularly impressive on defense. Aside from Waterbury's one big play for a touchdown, the Patriots generated little else offensively.
"Our will is going to carry us to however far we're going to go,'' Isler said. "This team has a lot of fight in it."
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