A stingy defensive performance, success on third down to keep drives alive, Dan Mason’s record-setting efforts, and solid special teams lifted Newtown High School’s football team past three-time Class LL State Champion Darien 26-15 in the LL playoff quarterfinals, at Blue & Gold Stadium on November 27.
Third-seeded Newtown will visit No. 2 Greenwich in the semifinals on Sunday, December 2; kickoff is at 12:30 pm. No. 6 Darien failed to reach a state championship game in one class size or another for the first time since 2012.
Newtown’s defense set the tone early, holding the Blue Wave without any points on offense in the first half.
Only a safety on a blocked punt kept Darien from being shut out in the opening half. The Nighthawks led 19-2 at the break.
Mason had three rushing touchdowns to bring his season total to an NHS player record 31 scores.
After Easton Ricks and James Knox joined forces on a tackle to stop Darien on fourth and goal, the Nighthawks marched 95 yards for the game’s opening score with just 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
Newtown converted a trio of third down plays to keep the chains moving and the drive culminated with Mason’s two-yard rush into the paint.
Quarterback Luke Melillo completed a third and 12 pass to Joseph Pagett, and a third and seven completion to Tucker Garrity that went for 29 yards to the Darien 18, then rushed 15 yards on third and nine from the 17 to set up Mason’s game-opening score.
Miles Ricks recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return, giving the Nighthawks outstanding field position, and all of the momentum, at the Blue Wave 23 yard line.
It was 7-0 Nighthawks, with the hosts threatening for more, after one quarter of play.
Yet another big third down play set up Newtown’s next score. After being backed up to the 30, the Hawks gained substantial yardage on a third and 17 pass play from Melillo to Riley Ward gave Newtown a first and goal situation at the six. Mason, with an assist from Newtown’s powerful offensive line, got into the end zone on what else but another third down play, scoring from two yards out again. The extra point failed and it was 13-0 with 9:44 remaining before the half.
The Hawks won the field position battle throughout the opening half and after a Darien three and out and punt, they took over at the Wave 36 yard line.
Finally stopped on third down, the Hawks still cashed in as Devin O’Connell booted a 32-yard field goal on fourth and three, making it 16-0 with 6:32 left in the second quarter.
Evan Prestera’s quarterback sack highlighted another solid defensive series, the defensive line continued to prevent the Wave from moving the ball on the ground, and Darien punted. Pinned deep, the Hawks were stopped subsequently punted from their own end zone. The kick was blocked through the back of the end zone for a safety, making the score 16-2 with 2:37 to go before intermission.
Darien took possession following the safety kick, but again punted. Newtown was backed up to its own ten yard line with 1:30 left but moved down field in a hurry.
A leaping grab by Pagett and Mason run after catch helped bring the ball all the way to the Wave 15 in just 47 seconds. Darien didn’t allow any more progress, but another 32-yard field goal by O’Connell pushed the lead to 19-2 with 26 left in the half. That was the score heading to the third.
Jack Zingaro intercepted a pass as Newtown’s great defensive effort continued in the third quarter. Darien matched Newtown’s efforts on D and finally got into the end zone when quarterback Cooper Hancock connected with Peter Bredahl on a 25-yard passing play with 1:01 left in the third.
It was 19-9 Hawks heading to the fourth.
A pass breakup by Pagett, Joe Zeller QB sack, and Pagett fumble recovery at the NHS 46 kept Darien from inching closer until past the midpoint of the fourth.
Darien scored again with just under four minutes remaining. Pagett blocked the extra point, making the score 19-15.
Mason sealed the win and put himself on top in the record books with a 12-yard run for a score in the waning seconds.
Newtown remains unbeaten. Darien lost once during the regular season, falling to eighth seed New Canaan, which defeated No. 1 Shelton 42-34. Greenwich is unbeaten and is coming off a 49-13 triumph over No. 7 New Britain. New Canaan will visit No. 5 Fairfield Prep, a 28-21 victor in its clash with No. 4 Southington.