It came down to a late fourth-quarter stand, but Newtown High School’s football team got the job done, holding off visiting Masuk of Monroe 21-14 in the annual Thanksgiving Eve clash, at chilly Blue & Gold Stadium on November 21.
With the victory, the Nighthawks finish the regular season 10-0; the Panthers conclude the campaign at 5-5.
The Hawks bumped up from the fourth seed to second but now play the Thanksgiving Day waiting game to see where they rank in the Class LL standings following other action, including third-seeded Darien against eighth-seeded New Canaan, fifth-seeded Greenwich against ninth-seeded Staples of Westport, and sixth-seeded Fairfield Prep versus 15-seed West Haven. Southington, a possible first-round playoff opponent for the Nighthawks, also finished 10-0 and was the fourth-seed through Wednesday’s action.
Newtown jumped out to an early lead on quarterback Luke Melillo’s keeper. The Panthers answered with a quick touchdown, but the Nighthawks jumped back in front on Dan Mason’s two-yard rush into the end zone following a 50-plus yard scamper by Mason. It was 14-7 Nighthawks after one quarter of play.
The score remained the same through the second quarter.
A Joe Zeller tackle in the backfield that knocked the ball loose and fumble recovery by James Knox gave Newtown the ball at the Masuk 28 yard line with 45 seconds left in the opening half. The Panthers blocked a last-second field goal try of 28 yards by Newtown’s Devin O’Connell.
The teams traded third-quarter punts with the Nighthawks winning the field position battle. Linebacker/fullback Jared Dunn set himself up on offense with a big play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Dunn recovered a fumble at the Masuk 30, setting up his 14-yard TD run with 2:47 left in the third. It was 21-7 Hawks heading to the fourth.
Early in the fourth, Miles Ricks downed a great Jack Mulligan punt at the four yard line, pinning the Panthers deep. A tackle in the backfield pushed Masuk back to its one yard line, but Masuk QB Thomas Juliano connected with a Chris Tillotson for a 99-yard score less than two minutes into the fourth.
The Panthers forced a turnover on downs and moved the ball to the Newtown 20, but Knox and Zach Loomis combined on a quarterback sack on fourth down, giving the Hawks possession at the 21 with 3:31 remaining.
The Panthers forced a punt, and Mulligan’s 53-yard boot and roll left the visitors to take over at their own nine yard line with two minutes to play.
After a combined tackle by Matt Dubois and Evan Prestera created a fourth and eight at the Panther 24 yard line, Knox forced a fumble, Newtown recovered with just 30 seconds remaining and ran out the clock.
After the game, the Hawks were presented with their South-West Conference champion banner.