(Newtown CT) I’ll admit that I left the Newtown/Masuk, Thanksgiving Eve football game last year at halftime.
Trust me, I wasn’t alone in 2015 heading home from Masuk as the Panthers trailed 34-0 after twenty-four minutes.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Eve of 2016. Same matchup, but what a difference!
However, Masuk looked like the 2015 version in the first quarter (down 14-0) but rallied back thereafter to make an exciting game of it before losing 35-28 on a chilly Wednesday night at Blue and Gold Stadium.
Newtown (10-0) needed two scores in the final five minutes to pull this one out. The final touchdown was essential for the Nighthawks after an extra-point block by Collin Briganti kept the visitors ahead, 28-27.
Masuk (7-3) would have been okay with that one-point lead if they could have moved the ball but they couldn’t. A run that went out of bounds and an incomplete pass stopped the clock twice and saved Newtown’s timeouts. The Hawks took over at the Masuk 38 with 3:14 left trailing by a point.
The home team settled for the Ben Mason power game and were 4th-and-2 with 1:30 left. Whether it was a hard count by QB Justin Dunn or something else, the Masuk defense jumped offside and Newtown had more downs to work with from the Masuk 9.
I thought that the Ben Mason power game inside would resume……so, it appeared, did Masuk. The defense got caught inside and junior Michael Garner floated free to the outside. Quarterback Justin Dunn, with terrific blocking all game, rolled right and spotted the wide-open receiver with 1:24 to go and connected for the game winner.
“We were in range to kick a field goal,” said NHS coach Steve George afterwards. “I figured that we had time for one last shot at the end zone. Thankfully it didn’t come down to a field goal try.”
It wasn’t that Masuk hadn’t seen the play before. The Hawks had used the same play, same personnel to get the same result three minutes earlier in the final quarter.
There was still time (1:24) left for Masuk to answer. However, a Matt Hersch pass to Ryan Shaw bounced off the junior and into the hands of defender Mark Hull. Game. Set. Match.
What helped Masuk make a game of it was a Hunter Cobb injury in the second quarter. After Masuk had rallied to tie the score in the second quarter, Hunter went down with a leg injury after a pass reception and never returned to action.
Prior to his departure, Hunter had registered both Newtown scores including a special second one that set the single-season Newtown record for touchdowns (30).
Without Hunter, the Newtown offense became more predictable (inside power) but the home-run pass plays in the second half worked as a result. Masuk lost defensive numbers in the secondary in their concern for Newtown’s inside game. The Nighthawk’s quarterback Justin Dunn had excellent protection and his receivers had time to get open.
The Masuk passing attack was surprisingly effective after the first quarter. QB Matt Hersch was on target and he had receivers (Nick Dellapiano, Ryan Shaw, and Michael Zuk) with speed to get deep as well as catching ability.
Matt tossed three TD passes in this game to put him at thirty for the season.
Masuk punter Peter Fox’s attempt to run for a first down backfired in the first quarter.
Ben Mason had five touchdowns versus Masuk in 2015.
QB Justin Dunn scrambled for several first downs.
A Hunter Cobb pick-six in the first half was brought back because of a penalty.
Panther Jack Roberge found big yards up the middle on two shuffle passes.
Masuk had the chance to take a 3-point lead on the last play of the first half but Nolan McCarter’s field goal attempt went wide left.
This game had a chilly start but once the back-and-forth action kicked in I hardly noticed it.
“Masuk is a well-coached passing team,” said Coach George. “We expected to play better defense than we did.”
The NHS dance team and cheerleaders were excellent as usual performing at halftime.
Newtown seniors were honored before the game.
Newtown has only lost once in South-West Conference games in five seasons.
Newtown’s Ben Mason is signed on with Michigan while lineman Seth Willis will attend Brigham Young.
Newtown 14 0 7 14 = 35
Masuk 0 14 14 0 = 28
N – 69-yard run Hunter Cobb (Ryan Kost kick)
N – 1-yard run Hunter Cobb (Kost kick)
M – 49-yard pass Ryan Shaw from Matt Hersch (Nolan McCarter kick)
M – 9-yard pass Michael Zuk from Hersch (McCarter kick)
M – 18-yard run Jack Roberge (McCarter kick)
N – 5-yard pass Mark Hall from Justin Dunn (Kost kick)
M – 38-yard pass Nick Dellapiano from Hersch (McCarter kick)
N – 31-yard pass Michael Garner from Dunn (kick blocked)
N – 9-yard pass Michael Garner from Dunn (Ben Mason rush)
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)