NFA falls to Xavier 48-14 in state Class LL championship

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Dec. 10, 2012
DJ Garcia collects himself after the final horn sounds at Rentschler Field. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
DJ Garcia collects himself after the final horn sounds at Rentschler Field. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

The state title was almost close enough to taste, but the three-time defending champions kept Norwich Free Academy away from the table. Back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter brought NFA within a touchdown’s distance of the state Class LL title, but a powerful Xavier squad barreled past the Wildcats in the second half, besting the Wildcats by a 48-14 final score.

NFA team members raised their helmets in salute to disappointed fans in the stands, as the somber strains of NFA’s Alma Mater echoed through Rentschler Field at the game’s end.

“We knew they were a very good football team,” NFA head football coach Jemal Davis said of Xavier, which was defending its two-year state title streak. He said he had hoped that the defense would play a little better and that his offense could have racked up more yards rushing and passing.  Xavier easily outstripped the Wildcats in that department, with 517 total yards to NFA’s 169.

With two quick back-to-back scoring drives that put the Wildcats within a touchdown’s reach of a tie, NFA had momentum in its favor at halftime. The outcome might have been different, “if we’d been able to orchestrate a drive coming out of halftime,” said Davis. “But we were unable to keep those things going.”

Xavier pulled to an early lead in the first quarter, with quarterback Tim Boyle scoring the first touchdown himself and James Sullivan rushing 94 yards for the second. Xavier scored another touchdown in the second quarter, followed by a failed field goal attempt. NFA responded near the quarter’s end with its two touchdowns, both by wide receiver Ryer Caruso on passes from quarterback Joey Paparelli. Both of Elisa Formiglio’s subsequent field goal kicks were good.

But the momentum stalled after halftime. Xavier’s DeAngelo Berry scored a touchdown, followed by a completed two-point pass, putting Xavier ahead by a 28-14 score. By the start of the fourth quarter Xavier had another TD under its belt and led the ‘Cats 34-14. Xavier’s two remaining touchdowns and field goals were scored in the fourth quarter, by Berry and Andrew Meoli, respectively.

The loss spelled the end of NFA’s 12-0 unbeaten streak for the season, which propelled the squad into the state finals for the first time since 1998, when the Wildcats lost to Southington.

This was the final high school gridiron contest for 18 NFA seniors – larger-than-usual attrition, said Davis. “Typically we have about 12 seniors,” he said. “That speaks highly in terms of [players’] commitment, and that’s our goal – to get kids to stay with the program. When you get to be a senior you can definitely contribute because you have four years of high school football.”

Senior tight end Nicholas Cardelle, for example, “saw very limited time last year but was able to take on a starting role this year,” Davis said. “Trevon Wiggins did the same thing. That’s the key, to be able to get these guys as seniors when they’re mature athletically and physically."

“Now we’ve got a blueprint of what it takes to be successful in the ECCs and in the playoffs,” Davis continued. “We can look to this group and really appreciate what it took to get to this point. We’ve got a core of kids, primarily juniors, who got a significant amount of play this year. Marcus Outlow, Ramel Williams, Airec Ricks and Colby Britt – they’re all back next year.”

Davis is also eyeing some promising youngsters. Among them is Kaleem Exum-Strong. "He’s a sophomore who started this year at fullback,” said Davis. Freshman linemen J’Von Brown and Noah Brown also show promise, he said. “We’ve got to be able to fill some spots at quarterback, wide receiver and linebackers – we’re going to need some help on the line, and I think we have some kids in the program who can do that. I think the future’s still bright.”

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