SIMSBURY, Nov. 22 – In the final game of the year, two high school football teams that have grown significantly throughout the season traded blows in Tuesday night’s Valley Gridiron Classic at Simsbury High School.
It took an inexperienced Avon squad time to learn to play at the varsity level. But they’ve been playing well in the final three weeks of the season and took a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter over a favored Simsbury High squad.
Coming off a 1-9 campaign, Simsbury lost their first four games of the season. But they refused to wilt and won five of their final six contests including a 26-13 win over Avon to capture the Valley Gridiron Classic trophy for the first time.
The difference was Simsbury senior Sean Penney. He scored three of Simsbury’s four touchdowns and each time the Trojans needed a big play, there was Penney breaking tackles downfield and running for big yards.
The first time the Simsbury offense touched the ball, Penney broke into the open with a 47-yard touchdown run. Early in the fourth quarter after Avon took a 13-12 lead, Penney scored on a 52-yard run on Simsbury’s next offensive play to put the Trojans back into control.
“The (offensive line) did a great job,” said Penney, who rushed for a career-high 209 yards on 16 carries. “Once, I found the lane, I was gone.”
At one point, Simsbury head coach Dave Masters made a decision about the Trojan offense. “The only person that needs to see the ball right now is Sean,” he said. “My read is that he would win us the game.”
One person can’t win a game but they can make a difference.
Avon (1-9) showed some guts and character. The Falcons lost their first eight games of the season and finally earned their first victory earlier this month by beating winless Plainville. Avon showed no fear playing Simsbury.
Leon Asberry, Jr., rushed for a team-high 109 yards on 27 carries and quarterback Dylan Burgos completed 7-of-20 passes for 93 yards – one of his better passing performances of the season. On one third quarter drive that ate up more than nine minutes, Burgos completed a pair of third down passes that kept an 19-play, 86-yard drive alive.
Avon eventually scored to take a one-point lead in one of their most impressive drives of the season. The Falcons successfully converted on five third down plays and scored on a 10-yard pass from Burgos to Dan Quick on fourth down to take their only lead of the game, 13-12.
“We certainly put together a great effort, offensively and defensively,” Avon’s first-year coach Sal Cintorino said. “We tried to keep the ball away from them as much as we could. Dylan at quarterback has started to come around the last few weeks. That was a good team we played tonight. Obviously, they were as hungry as we were.”
Early, it looked like a blowout win for Simsbury. Avon couldn’t gain a first down and Penney scored the first time Simsbury touched the ball for a 6-0 lead with just 1:48 gone in the game. The Trojans missed the extra point.
— KEITH PENNEY (@kpenneymd) November 23, 2016
On its next possession, Simsbury drove to the Avon 32-yard line but a pair of tackles for losses stalled the drive. Avon came back with a 12-play, 64-yard drive that finished with a five-yard run from Burgos for a touchdown and tie the game at 6-6. Avon missed the extra point when the snap went over the head of the holder, who was tackled short of the goal line.
Avon had a chance to take the lead late in the second quarter. After a Simsbury punt, they took over the Avon 45-yard line with 1:16 remaining. They advanced to the Simsbury 47 but the drive stalled. On fourth down and two and 47 seconds left, the Falcons went for the first down and fumbled the ball away.
“We ran that play in the last two series and we had good success with it,” Cintorino said. “We had some momentum.”
Again, it was Penney who made a difference. On Simsbury’s first play, he raced 32 yards downfield to the Avon 20. With a personal foul penalty for grabbing the facemask, the Trojans got the ball on the 10. Three players later, Penney scored from the one-yard line with 13 seconds left in the first half for a 12-6 Simsbury lead.
On Avon’s first possession of the second half, the Falcons used 9:13, ran 19 plays and marched 86 yards to take a 13-12 lead on a 10-yard pass from Burgos to Dan Quick on fourth down and nine. On the marathon drive, Avon converted on third down four times and one fourth down once
Burgos completed a 12-yard pass to Peter Gerosa on a third down and nine play, Asberry ran for two yards on a third and two play and Tommy Donovan ran for seven yards on a third down and five play. On fourth and two on the Avon 42-yard line, Burgos completed a 15-yard pass to Dan Quick.
“We wanted to keep the ball away from them as much as we could with a methodical ball control offense,” Cintorino said.
After Avon took its first and only lead, it took Penney just two plays to give Simsbury the lead for good. Penney ran three yards on first down and zipped down on a 52-yard run to give the Trojans a 20-13 lead with 10:53 remaining after a successful two-point conversion pass.
Capped off night with 52 yard TD run to finish with 208 yards, 3 TDs. Valley Gridiron Champions!!! pic.twitter.com/4r11LOoVep
— KEITH PENNEY (@kpenneymd) November 23, 2016
Avon drove to the Simsbury 31 yard line with 7:01 before turning the ball over on downs. Simsbury ate up 5:02 and extended its lead to 28-13 on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Riley Shanley to Ralph Gilliard with 1:31 left in the game. It was the team-leading fifth TD reception of the season for Gilliard.
“It’s been a growing process and a learning process this year,” Cintorino said. “It was a big transition. We had seniors who graduated. After some injuries, it was all new kids playing. As the year went on, they got better.”
NOTES: Simsbury takes a 6-5 lead in the series with its first win over Avon since 1991. … The Simsbury players celebrated with the Valley Gridiron Classic championship trophy after the game with plenty of pictures with fans and/or family members. … The last Simsbury player to rush for more than 200 yards in a single game was Kyle Decker, who ran for 209 yards and two touchdowns in a November 2010 contest with Newington High. … Avon was the home team since there are no lights around Avon’s home field.
Simsbury 26, Avon 13
Simsbury (5-5) 6 6 0 16 – 26
Avon (1-9) 0 6 0 7 — 13
S: Sean Penney 47 run (kick fails), 10:12
A: Dylan Burgos 4 run (run fails), 7:32
S: Penney 1 run (run fails), 0:13
A: Dan Quick 10 pass from Burgos (David Gondek kick), 11:46
S: Penney 52 run (Penney pass from Riley Shanley), 10:53
S: Ralph Gilliard 10 pass from Shanley (Alex Haggerty pass from Shanley), 1:31
RUSHING: Avon – Dylan Burgos 11-47, Leon Asberry, Jr. 27-109, Jack Jones 1-12, Dan Quick 3-3; Simsbury – Dylan Faraci 2-12, Riley Shanley 9-15, Sean Penney 16-209, Raf Nieves 3-17
PASSING: Avon – Dylan Burgos 7-20-1, 93; Simsbury – Riley Shanley 6-11-0, 48
RECEIVING: Avon – Tommy Donovan 1-15, Ryan Ollestad 2-26, Peter Gerosa 2-27, Dan Quick 2-25; Simsbury – Sean Penney 1-1, Ralph Gilliard 3-31, Jackson Butler 2-19
RETURNS: Kickoffs –Donovan (A) 2-31, Asberry (A) 1-16, Quick (A) 1-2; Gilliard (S) 1-32, Penney (S) 1-12; Punts – Penney (S) 1-0, Donovan (A) 1-0; INTERCEPTION: Cole Mangiafico (S) 1-31; SACK: Nick Schuster and Vinny Bonalumi (A) 1-3