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Freshman Football Team Finds Success In Return To Field



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After a one-year hiatus, freshman football returned to Newtown High School this fall. This year’s team, comprising new and returning players from Newtown Youth Football, was led by captains Marco D’Amico, James Hartigan, and Ayden Paulos. Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Joe Gantert, Offensive Coordinator Declan Sullivan, and Offensive Assistant Lou Santoli continued Newtown football’s tradition of excellence by guiding the team to a winning record of 6-4.

There were 21 players on the freshman team, and most played multiple positions, and on offense and defense. The linemen included D’Amico, Sam Kennel, Sal LoGrosso, Caleb St. Louis, A.J. Penna, Cole Sgagliardich, and Hunter Rowland. The running backs were Josh Miller, Drew Gagnon, and John Sclafani. Making up the receiving corps were Jayden Taylor, Hartigan, Drew Bradley, Colin Gevry, and Andrew Colins. Linebackers Joey Terry, Wes Keayes, along with pass defenders Will McManus, Paulos, and Matt Pontore made up the defense. Ryan Schoffstall took every snap at quarterback.

In addition to playing on the freshman team, some players were asked to attend JV games to provide depth for a team that had suffered some injuries. Bradley, D’Amico, Hartigan, Kennel, McManus, Paulos, Schoffstall, Taylor, and Terry all saw playing time with the JV team. Over a span of five games, these players answered the call, filling in wherever needed. In a game against Weston, in which Newtown was comfortably ahead, several of these players got to enjoy significant playing time with Taylor scoring on a touchdown catch.

The entire freshman team prepared for the season by working out with JV and varsity teams during the summer. After a summer of workouts and practices, the season started on September 9 with an opening day 34-8 victory at Brookfield. Newtown did not give up a score in the next three games, leading to shutout victories over New Milford, Darien, and Ridgefield, a four-week stretch in which Newtown outscored its opponents 119-8. During that period, Newtown scored 15 passing touchdowns with 12 coming from quarterback Schoffstall to receivers Taylor, Bradley, McManus, Miller, and Hartigan, and three touchdowns from trick play passes from Hartigan to Taylor.

Throughout the season, Newtown attacked opponents’ offenses with some tenacious defense. Leading tacklers Kennel, Terry, Hartigan, and McManus, along with leading pass defenders Paulos, McManus, and Taylor, kept rushers and receivers in check. Sack leaders Kennel, Terry, Bradley, St. Louis, and LoGrosso made quarterbacks uncomfortable leading to nine interceptions by a combination of Paulos, Taylor, and Bradley, including a 43-yard pick-six by Taylor. Even when facing a clear size disadvantage, Newtown’s swarming defense always kept the team in the game.

The team’s shining moment came in the fifth game of the season. Hosting a large and deep West Haven team, Newtown found itself in a tough battle. After a 20-yard touchdown pass from Schoffstall to Hartigan and an extra point from a McManus kick, Newtown gave up two touchdowns and found itself down 14-7 in the fourth quarter with time running out. Getting right to work, Newtown marched into West Haven territory with a reception by Taylor and a first-down rush by Miller. On the next play, Schoffstall scrambled to his right and found an open Taylor who raced to the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown play. Down by one point, Newtown opted for a go-ahead two-point conversion. On the play, Schoffstall rolled to his right and patiently waited for Hartigan to get open and hit him with a pass in the corner of the end zone to complete the conversion and put Newtown ahead by one point. West Haven threatened on its next possession, but after key tackles by Miller, St. Louis, McManus, and Gevry, D’Amico hit the quarterback as he threw forcing a fourth-down incompletion and sealing the 15-14 victory.

Newtown then struggled through a stretch of games against strong competition. Though the team played well, played hard, and was competitive in every game, the Nighthawks lost their next four games, against Cheshire, Shelton, New Fairfield, and Bunnell. The season ended on a high note, though, with the final game on November 20 in which the freshman team combined with sophomore JV players to defeat Masuk by a score of 20-0. During the course of the season, Newtown outgained its opponents by an average of 248 to 171 yards per game and outscored them by an average of 20-14. With each game, the team members gained valuable experience that they will bring with them into next year along with the expectation for continued success.

Quarterback Ryan Schoffstall rolls out to throw a pass for the freshman team this fall. —Julia Bernstein photo
Jayden Taylor hauls in a pass during a game at Blue & Gold Stadium this season. —Julia Bernstein photo
Members of the freshman team head out onto the field for a game. —Cheryl VanDeWege photo
Captains Ayden Paulos, James Hartigan, and Marco D’Amico go out for the coin toss. —Cheryl VanDeWege photo
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