London ball

NFA defeats New London in historic Thanksgiving football battle

NEW LONDON – This post-COVID season has been anything but memorable for the Norwich Free Academy football team.

But the 2021 Wildcats are sure to remember their last game.

With an exceptional performance from running back Talon Amado Jr. and a swarming defense that provided winning safety at the end of the third quarter, the NFA edged New London, 9-8, on Thanksgiving morning at Cannamela Field. of New London High School.

“I’m just proud of the coaches and the players who got through it all,” said NFA coach Jason Bakoulis. “You think about what they’ve been through, not just this game and not just this season, but for the seniors their entire careers. I am so proud of every player and coach for what they have been able to do today.

Trailing 8-7 at the end of the third quarter, the Wildcats had an 11-play stall on the Whalers 39-yard line. A hold penalty had put the Wildcats in a fourth and long situation, so Bakoulis chose to kick. Sophomore Gage Hinkley’s punt rebounded to the 1-yard line where he was shot before rolling into the end zone. Players and coaches on the sidelines of New London felt the ball had crossed the goal line.

“You take those calls. They are part of the game, ”said New London coach Johnny Burns. “We’re not the NFL or D1 college, so we live with those. We know the officials are doing the best job they can, so I hope they got it right. “

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In the play that followed, the Whalers handed the ball to Lio Griffin-Hill in the end zone. Griffin-Hill was greeted by a swarm of NFA defenders, led by senior Jordan Ribeiro, who tackled Griffin-Hill for safety and a 9-8 lead.

“Securities are hard to come by,” Bakoulis said. “The thing with us was the position on the pitch. If we could just keep them back and get them kicked, then we would have a good position on the pitch. Obviously, getting that security was exactly what we needed, so we’re going to take it. “

Safety turned out to be the difference in America’s oldest high school football rivalry. It started in 1875 and the NFA extended its lead in this 159th edition to 80-68-11.

“Thanks.” This one was kind of like the epitome of our season, just kind of a bounce here and a bounce there. We played a very tough team. We knew they would be big and physical. I am proud of the way we competed. If we could have run one more game then maybe that’s a different outcome.

Jamail Vieira of the NFA jumps for a catch against Herbert Bonneau of New London.  (Laura Howe / For the Bulletin)

The Wildcats (4-6) took a 7-0 lead on the game’s first possession. NFA senior quarterback Jayden Desilus had 6 of 6 passes on the 72-yard scoring walk. Amado Jr. capped the practice by capturing a screen pass and running 18 yards for a touchdown.

The Whalers (6-4) tried to respond midway through the second quarter, but Griffin-Hill was stopped by NFA senior linebacker Cam Green on a fourth down and a goal from the 2-yard line. .

New London’s touchdown offer was thwarted, but the Whalers were able to secure some safety when Desilus dropped the shotgun in the end zone and was tackled by junior linebacker Jonathan Mercado.

Trailing 7-2, the Whalers took the lead on Griffin-Hill’s 40-yard touchdown in the second play of the scrum in the second half.

Griffin-Hill, who struggled with injury throughout the game, finished with a record 107 yards on 10 carries.

Hanging on to a 9-8 lead with 4:36 left in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats delivered their biggest and most important practice of the season. And it was all on the ground.

Running behind linemen Colby Briggs, Caleb Beetle, Sam Sweeney, Green and Ribeiro, Amado Jr. carried the ball eight straight. The Wildcats were able to use up most of the time with three first downs.

“It was a little different from what people have seen from the NFA in recent years,” Bakoulis said. “It is a testament to the fact that the offensive players are buying into what we have to do. It was what we needed to win the game.

New London, however, were able to regain possession with 30 seconds remaining when NFA failed to convert to fourth and 1 of the Whalers 28.

But with no downtime, the Whalers couldn’t move the ball through the air and the game ended with an interception by Hinckley.

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Amado Jr. finished with 92 yards on 22 carries. He also caught three passes for 76 yards. Senior Jeremiah Capps also had three receptions for the NFA, who played without senior receiver Max Pierre Louis (injury).

Desulis completed 7 of 10 passes for 59 yards with one touchdown, while reserve quarterback Colby Ayyuyu was 4-for-9 for 38 yards.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some great alumni to come and talk to the team over the past few weeks and the message was that whatever your record, whatever their record, it’s the game,” Bakoulis mentioned. “You have to win this game. And for our seniors, it’s the rest of your life. I am very happy that our elders were able to do as they did.