WEST HARTFORD, October 26 – It was a game that neither team will ever forget. The Avon High football team was one second away from earning their second win of the season on Saturday afternoon.
But it was snatched away with another last-second touchdown pass from Northwest Catholic.
Northwest Catholic, who scored a 14-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the second quarter, did it again on the final play of the game. Quarterback Connor Rich completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Sidoti as the final gun went off to stun Avon, 20-17 in a CCC Division III contest at Neil J. Brewer Field.
Leading 17-14, the Falcons were trying to run out the clock and grab the victory. On fourth down and six from their own 26-yard line, Avon QB Tabor Engle snapped the ball with four seconds left in the game and he surged forward.
Engle gained a yard and after the players got up from the ground, Engle fired the ball downfield and the Falcon players began to celebrate. The scoreboard clock ran out. But the officials blew their whistles and brought the teams back onto the field. They were keeping the time on the field. One second was left along with one more chance for Northwest Catholic (3-3).
Lion QB Connor Rich took the snap at the Avon 26-yard line with one second left and moved to his right under pressure from the Falcons. Rich found Joshua Sidoti near the goal line, got the ball over an Avon defender and won the game for Northwest Catholic.
“Sometimes things work out for you,” Northwest Catholic’s head coach Matt Lenz said. “We ran a receiver up the sideline. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than play a great game.”
Rich completed 13-of-27 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 38 yards on 14 carries. “That is storybook stuff. Things you see on TV, Minnesota miracle,” he said of the game-winning touchdown throw. “It was really cool.”
The Lions didn’t let Avon (1-5) get too far away from them and were in the right spot to take advantage of two tremendous touchdown throws from Rich in the final seconds of each half.
In the second quarter, Northwest Catholic was trailing Avon by three, 10-7, with the ball on the Avon 14-yard line with 5.9 seconds remaining. Rich scrambled away from Avon pressure on the play and got the ball away. But it was going to fall short of Northwest Catholic tight end Skye Dolce in the end zone.
Avon’s Quandrel Stewart leaped to make a play on the ball and the ball bounced backwards off his hands. It went right into the hands of Dolce, standing behind Stewart in the end zone for a 14-10 lead.
The two teams battled in the third quarter with neither team giving up much until Avon’s Chris Bourquin recovered a fumble with 2:36 left on the Northwest Catholic 29-yard line. Lion receiver Brendan Keeferider gained five yards on a reception from Rich but fumbled the ball when he hit the ground.
Chris Gens gained 14 yards to drive the ball down to the Northwest Catholic three-yard line. Engle scored on a one-yard run with 11:57 left in the game to give the Falcons a 17-14 lead after Kevin Mullaj hit the extra point.
Northwest Catholic responded with a drive that really pushed the Falcons. The Lions marched 79 yards on 14 plays. Rich, who had minus 19 yards rushing when the drive began, ran for 55 yards on the march.
But Avon stiffened. The drive stalled inside the 10-yard line and the Falcons took over with 2:13 remaining. They tried to run out the clock. On fourth down and one on their own 17-yard line, they picked up a first down with 1:49 left thanks to a NW Catholic player jumping offsides.
Avon was facing a fourth down and six with four seconds left on their own 26-yard line when Engle surged forward. It ate up three of the four remaining seconds.
“It’s my fault,” Avon High head coach Jeff Redman said. “I should have had the quarterback (Engle) run around backwards (to run out the clock). This one is on me.
“The offensive line played great. The defense was great and it was a great game for our kids,” Redman said. “I’m sorry it went this way. They made a great, spectacular play at the end (of the game).”
As much as the Lions celebrated this victory, the Falcons mourned their defeat. The head official consoled Gens at midfield as they walked off the field.
Gens ran for 26 hard-earned yards on seven carries always up the middle of the line into a sea of bodies. He also made several tackles including a 22-yard sack in the third quarter. Avon sacked Rich four times for 31 yards in losses.
This was a game Avon wanted badly. Trailing 7-3 late in the first quarter, the Falcons were on the NW Catholic five-yard line after a 42-yard run from Francesco Longo. The Lions stopped Avon on two consecutive plays for no gain before Gens ran two yards to the three-yard line with 36 seconds left in the second quarter.
Redman was going to have Avon attempt a field goal but several lineman vocally appealed to their coach to go for the touchdown. The Falcons called timeout, regrouped and sent the offense back onto the field for the fourth down attempt.
Quarterback Tabor Engle scored on a satisfying three-yard run up the middle for a 10-7 Falcon lead with 34 seconds left in the first half.
“We’re getting better all the time. We’re more competitive. But this (loss) is a heartbreaker that we’re going to have to live with,” Redman said.
Avon took a 3-0 lead with 1:06 left in the first half when Mullaj hit his second field goal of the season with a boot of 29 yards. The Lions took a 7-3 lead when Rich completed a 33-yard pass to Shaun McNamara with 3:57 left in the second quarter.
The Falcons return to action next week when they travel to Berlin on Friday night to face the Redcoats at Sage Park beginning at 6:30 p.m. Northwest Catholic will challenge No. 7 Bloomfield next week.
Northwest Catholic 20, Avon 17
At West Hartford
Avon (1-5) 3 7 0 7 — 17
NW Catholic (3-3) 0 14 0 6 – 20
A: Kevin Mullaj 29 field goals, 1:06
NW: Shaun McNamara 33 pass from Connor Rich (Dominic Mealha kick), 3:57
A: Tabor Engle 3 run (Mullaj kick), 0:24
NW: Skye Dolce 14 pass from Rich (Melaha kick), 0:00
A: Engle 1 run (Mullaj kick), 11:57
NW: Joshua Sidoti 26 pass from Rich (no kick attempted), 0:00
RUSHING: Avon – Tabor Engle 17-36, Chris Gens 7-26, Francesco Longo 13-45, Quantrel Stewart 6-25; NW Catholic – Connor Rich 14-38, Issac Riley 7-19, Shawn McNamara 1-0, Dominic Mealha 3-10, E. Thompson 1-minus 1
PAASING: Avon – Tabor Engle 5-15-1, 85; NW Catholic – Connor Rich 13-27-0, 184; Matthew Churchro 2-3-0, 13
RECEIVING: Avon – Quantrel Stewart 2-29, Sean Nolan 3-72; NW Catholic – Shawn McNamara 3-64, Issac Riley 2-1, Skye Dolce 3-38, Joshua Sidoti 4-52, Brendan Keefrider 2-29, Dominic Mealha 1-3
INTERCEPTION: Skye Dolce (NW) 1-0; SACKS: Collin Stran (NW) 1-5, Francisco Longo (A) 1-3, Chris Gens (A) 1-22, Leighton Wittig (A) 2-6; FUMBLE REC: Chris Borquin (A) 1-0