AVON, September 28 – A year ago, the Avon High football team lost their first six games of the year. They were shutout in four of the six games.
Twelve months later, the Falcons are off to a 0-3 start. They’ve scored just three points.
But it’s not the same. The Falcons are bigger and stronger. They can move the ball more effectively. They can make plays on defense. They have a kicker, senior Kevin Mullaj, who belted a school-record 52-yard field goal in Saturday’s 37-3 loss to Guilford.
“We knew this was a great team (Guilford),” Avon coach Jeff Redman said. “I thought we did a nice things today. They’re tough up front but we still ran the ball OK. We passed pretty well. Defensively, we looked a lot better.”
Sophomore quarterback Tabor Engle completed 7-of-11 passes for 166 yards on Saturday against the Indians. A year ago, the Falcons completed just 13 passes for 165 yards in the entire season.
“I’m happy with the kids,” Redman said. “I know they are disappointed. We’ve played three good teams in a row and they’re a little down on themselves but they have to be realistic with themselves. We’re still young and we’re going to take our lumps right now.”
Avon’s first three opponents of the year – No. 7 Bloomfield, Tolland and Guilford – haven’t lost a game yet. The three teams are a combined 9-0.
“I thought all the kids played hard,” Redman said. “They’re doing what they can do right now against the teams we are playing. They just have to keep working at it.”
The highlight for the Falcons was Mullaj’s school record 52-yard field goal with 7:09 left in the third quarter. A 53-yard pass play from Engle to Sean Nolan helped set up the field goal. Surrounded by tacklers, Nolan ran another 10 yards after being hit by a Guilford defender to the Guilford 30-yard line.
Guilford sacked Engle for a six-yard loss a few plays later to put the ball on the Indian 35-yard line, setting the stage for Mullaj. He cleanly hit the ball and cleared the crossbar.
“The line did a great job. Everyone did their part. I just did mine,” Mullaj said. “The snap and hold were perfect. I just had to make it.”
Mullaj broke the school record of 49 yards set by Ken Lytle against Plainville in 1991. Mullaj is now tied for the third longest field goal in state history, according to the state high school football record book. Hall’s Roe Ruelat set the state record with a 56-yard field goal against Simsbury earlier this month.
Three players have hit 54-yard field goals in state history and five players, including Mullaj, have converted from 52 yards away. Mullaj had a 54-yard attempt in the fourth quarter but that was into the wind and fell about five yards short.
“He got his opportunities today,” Redman said. “That was nice. A 52-yarder is pretty darn good.”
Mullaj grew up in his native Albania playing soccer before coming to Avon as a sophomore. He tried out but didn’t make the varsity soccer team last fall but Redman convinced Mullaj to give football a try. “I was skeptical,” Mullaj said. “I didn’t want to get hurt.”
He’s getting the job done on kickoffs, punting and kicking. He put two kickoffs into the end zone, negating a possible return and had some nice, high punts, including a 50-yard punt in the first half.
Guilford (3-0) was led by Charles Walcott, who ran for a game-high 193 yards and three touchdowns. Indian QB Aedan McDermott completed 8-of-14 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown. Walcott caught two passes for 76 yards.
The Indians took a 7-0 leading on their first drive of the game, going 80 yards in 1:45 and five plays. Walcott had a 35-yard run on the drive and scored on a 19-yard run.
Guilford drove down to the Avon eight-yard line late in the first quarter but the Falcons held. On a third down and goal play from the seven, Walcott gained four yards. But on fourth down, he was tripped up and the Indians turned the ball over on downs.
From their own three-yard line, Avon drove to the Guilford 38-yard line before the drive stalled. The big plays on the drive were a 33-yard completion from Engle to Josh Cronkite and a 21-yard completion to Aaron Baldof.
Guilford made it 14-0 when Walcott scored on a 53-yard run with 5:00 remaining in the second quarter and the extra point.
After Mullaj’s field goal, Walcott scored his third TD of the game on a 17-yard run with 2:43 remaining. The Indians extended the lead to 28-3 when Ryan Eldridge scooped up a fumble after Engle was sacked and ran 24 yards for a touchdown.
NOTES: Avon returns to action when they host Lewis Mills (3-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. It will be the first game between the two schools as Central Connecticut Conference rivals. Mills joined the CCC in September. The two teams played in 2013 as members of the Pequot Conference with Avon earning a 35-0 victory. … Mullaj is the first Avon football player to score points on the new turf field.
Guilford 37, Avon 3
Guilford (3-0) 7 7 14 8 — 37
Avon (0-3) 0 0 3 0 — 3
G: Charles Walcott 19 run (Aidan Chiaia kick), 10:15
G: Walcott 53 run (Chiaia kick), 5:00
A: Kevin Mullaj 52 FG, 7:09
G: Walcott 17 run (Chiaia kick), 2:43
G: Ryan Eldridge 24 fumble return (Chiaia kick), 1:32
G: Shane Burns 63 pass from Aedan McDermott (Chiaia kick), 9:17
G: Safety. Avon snaps ball out of end zone, 2:42
MISSED FG: Mullaj (A) 54
RUSHING: Guilford –Ian Derda 4-50, Charles Walcott 17-193, Charles Schioppo 7-25, Aedan McDermott 4-18; Avon – Tabor Engle 5-minus 10, Connor Levoie 1-1, Chris Gens 6-25, Francesco Longo 12-6, Sean Nolan 3-13
PASSING: Guilford – Aedan McDermott 8-14-0, 220; Liam Alberti 0-1-1, 0; Avon – Tabor Engle 7-11-0, 166
RECEIVING: Guilford – Eric Dolmus 1-30, Ian Derda 3-46, Charles Walcott 2-76, Charles Schioppo 1-5, Shane Burns 1-63; Avon – Josh Cronkite 1-33, Aaron Baldof 1-21, Sean Nolan 3-64, Tyler Brokenshire 2-48
FUMBLE REC: Ryan Eldridge (G) 1-53; INTERCEPTION: Cameran Casey (A) 1-5