Champs Again! NHS Football Team Wins Another SWC Crown

Photo: Andy Hutchison

Newtown High team members, led by quarterback Drew Tarantino (No. 4) bust through the championship game banner as they are supported by the school cheerleaders prior to defeating Brookfield in the SWC title game on November 21.

BROOKFIELD — The celebration, all things considered, was somewhat subdued — no player pile-on after the final whistle, or water jug bath for the coach. Members of Newtown High School’s football team, nonetheless, left Brookfield High’s turf as the proud owners of the conference trophy yet again. The Nighthawks pulled away for a 28-7 triumph over the Bobcats in the South-West Conference title game on November 21, claiming their second SWC crown in a row, in their fourth straight appearance in the pinnacle game.

The outcome wasn’t far off from the result in Newtown’s previous visit to Brookfield, a 35-7 win earlier in the campaign, but the rematch was actually much closer. Newtown found itself deadlocked at a score apiece after one quarter of play, and ahead only 14-7 at halftime before eventually putting the game out of reach in the fourth.

Cooper Gold rushed for a pair of touchdowns and earned championship game Most Valuable Player honors, and Julian Dunn had a pair of touchdown receptions, the second of which — a 15-yard reception — made him the Newtown High single-season receiving yards record holder.

“I’m happy for the kids,” Newtown Coach Steve George said. “They played almost mistake-free football.”

The Bobcats benefited from a home game made possible because Brookfield High was previously selected as the neutral site to host the championship game. The Bobcat fans were loud but so too were Newtown’s. They had plenty to cheer about.

Newtown broke a scoreless tie just 2:05 into the contest when quarterback Drew Tarantino found a wide open Dunn for a 25 yard score on fourth and three. A long Brookfield kick return by Gabe Pompette set up the Bobcats at the Nighthawk 14 yard line and the home team cashed in with Austin Reich finding the end zone on a two-yard rush midway through the opening quarter.

After a solid kick return by Troy Frangione, Tarantino was intercepted but, sparked by a Dom Scarangella quarterback sack, the NHS defense held. A second-quarter sack by Jaret DeVellis, followed by a tackle in the backfield by DeVellis, got the ball back in the hands of the Nighthawks for only the third time. Brookfield kept Newtown’s potent offense on the sidelines for much of the first half.

Tarantino got the Hawks out of a third-and-long hole by completing a key pass to Jared Pearson for a big gain. That set up the 15-yarder to Dunn, with 5:15 to play in the half, putting the Hawks ahead by a TD once again.

Nick Lotrecciano had a diving interception to thwart a Brookfield drive and help the Hawks maintain their lead going into the locker room.

Brookfield had the ball to begin the second half, but went three and out, and Newtown’s ensuing drive was aided by a couple of Bobcat penalties, setting up Gold’s one-yard touchdown run with 6:35 to play in the third quarter.

In the fourth, another DeVellis sack helped the defense continue to stop the Bobcats. Only a minute after a Brookfield INT, the Hawks took the ball back as Ryan Shaw recovered a fumble. That turnover led to Gold’s put-away score, a five-yard run up the middle with 6:18 left. Otto Kerler booted his fourth extra point of the night to finish things off.

Gold had numerous carries to keep the chains moving and the NHS defense off the field after Brookfield’s initial spurt on offense. George credited the offensive line of Peter Manfredonia, Markus Elken, Scarangella, Kevin Conte, and Josh Krapf for helping make it possible for the running game to shine.

“We were able to keep Coop churning — getting those five and six yards a clip,” the coach said.

Dunn said it felt just like a year ago, when the Hawks defeated Masuk of Monroe to claim conference bragging rights. “It was just a physical game, a tiring game — it feels amazing,” Dunn said.

“It’s really a blessing to have the opportunity two years in a row,” Gold added.

The Nighthawks lost two straight SWC title games to Masuk before last year’s win. Now, they’re the two-time conference champions. Newtown remains unbeaten this season, and Brookfield suffered only its second loss — the only other coming at the hands of the Hawks.

“Let’s face it — they’re a good football team. We’re a good football team too,” said Brookfield Coach Rich Angarano, adding that Newtown’s QB sacks proved to be one of the difference-makers in the game since his offense couldn’t seem to find any rhythm.

“We bent a little, but we didn’t break,” George said of his team’s defensive effort.

The only thing that broke was that receiving record. Dunn eclipsed the old mark of 925 yards in a campaign.

“It feels great. In the offseason Coach George had us all write down goals and that was one of my goals,” Dunn said.

Newtown, after battling Masuk in the annual Thanksgiving Eve clash, will make its immediate goal to win the Class LL state playoff opener on December 3. The Hawks were ousted on their home field in the first round of states last fall. Perhaps that sense of unfinished business is why the SWC triumph ended with a tempered celebration.

“Last year left a bitter taste in our mouths at the end of the season,” Dunn recalled. “We’re going to prepare as hard as we can and we know not to take any team lightly this year. They’re in states for a reason,” Dunn said.

Heading into the Masuk game there was no telling who Newtown’s first state playoff opponent would be. The Hawks held the No. 1 seed going into the contest, and an edge over West Haven for the top spot. The only guarantee is first-round home field advantage for the eight-team tournament.

“Obviously, any team that makes states is a really formidable opponent,” George said. “It will be nice to be home again.”

The Hawks, following their SWC title game win, weren’t fully focused on the state playoffs just yet. They still had the Masuk game to worry about and, even before that, they wanted to put the next task on the back burner and let the conference triumph soak in a little — yet with an eye ahead on making a statement in the Class LL playoffs.

“We’ve got to keep it going. This isn’t where it ends,” Gold said after the Brookfield game.

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