SIMSBURY, Nov. 26 – Simsbury High coach Dave Masters was shivering but smiling Tuesday night at Holden Field. His Trojan football team celebrated winning the Valley Gridiron Classic and winning their ninth game of the season by pouring a large, ice-cold bucket of water over the shoulders of the fifth-year head coach.
Simsbury quarterback Aiden Boeshans tied a school record with five touchdown passes as the Trojans (9-1) overwhelmed Avon, 47-10, in the fifth annual Valley Gridiron Classic. With their best regular season record since 2009, the Trojans are heading to the CIAC’s Class LL tournament that begins on Tuesday, December 3.
It’s been a long journey since Master’s first season in 2015 when the Trojans were 1-9, a team with few players that lost big to Avon in the initial Valley Gridiron Classic, 55-26.
“I am really proud,” Masters said of his team, his coaches and everyone surrounding his program. “From 2015 to now, it feels like football now. I can’t go to the grocery store without people asking about the team and it’s nice. They’re asking about the team, they’re proud and it’s a nice feeling.”
Simsbury was just too much for Avon (2-8), a team that is continuing to rebuild. A year ago, the Falcons began the season with 18 players at their first practice of the season and got through a 2-8 campaign. This fall, the Falcons had more players on the sideline and were stronger but still found wins hard to get.
“We competed with a superior team in all ways the best we could,” Avon coach Jeff Redman said. “We found some weaknesses and exposed it a couple of times. But they have a very, very strong team. I am proud of my kids. We’ve got 55 kids and they have 140.”
It’s probably not 140 kids but Simsbury has sideline full of players this year and three healthy programs at the varsity, junior varsity and freshman level.
It was a fine evening for the Trojans. Simsbury intercepted Avon sophomore QB Tabor Engle three times, had 10 tackles for a loss or a sack and limited the Falcons to just 32 yards on the ground. Dan Sohn had two interceptions and dropped a potential third interception in the second quarter.
Offensively, Boeshans tied a single game school record with five touchdown passes including two each to Jeffrey Coleman (6 receptions, 70 yards) and Zack Gilbert (4-77), who has six TD receptions in the last three games.
Simsbury’s Doug Cramphin threw 5 TD passes in a game against Avon in 1968 and in a game against Southington in 1969. Boeshans has thrown 17 TD passes on the year, two shy of the school record (19) set by Jackson Masters in 2017.
Leading 7-0, Boeshans completed passes on three consecutive plays with a 23-yard scoring strike to Gilbert with 5:29 gone in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead. Late in the first quarter, Boeshans again found Gilbert, who weaved his way through the Avon defense for a 38-yard scoring play and a 21-0 lead.
“He gives out offense a huge boost (with) lots of energy from him,” Masters said regarding Gilbert. “He is sure-handed with the football.”
After blocking an Avon punt, it took Simsbury four plays to extend the lead to 28-0 on a 21-yard pass from Boeshans to Coleman, who took a short pass across the middle and weaved through defenders and into the end zone.
Brendan Gaffney caught his first touchdown pass of the season on a nice fade pass at the one-yard line and he tumbled into the end zone with a 37-yard reception and a 34-0 lead for the Trojans.
Avon got on the board with a 33-yard field goal from Kevin Mullaj with 2:13 left in the second quarter. Engle completed a 24-yard pass to Aaron Baldof that put Avon into Simsbury territory for the first time. Two plays later, the drive was helped by a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit.
It was Mullaj’s third field goal of the season and it is just the ninth time in Avon football history that a kicker has converted on three or more field goals in a season.
Simsbury marched 69 yards in seven plays in just 1:13 with Boeshans throwing a five-yard TD pass to Coleman with 52 seconds left in the first half for a 41-3 lead.
Avon had a nice opening drive in the third quarter. Engle completed a 24-yard pass to sophomore receiver Colby Nemarich, a 26-yard pass to Sean Nolan and a 29-yard touchdown pass to Nemarich – his first TD reception of his career – to cut the lead to 41-10 with 8:53 left in the third quarter.
Sohn had a one-yard touchdown run for Simsbury early in the first quarter while John Mairano had a 25-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Mairano finished with 45 yards rushing on seven carries.
Redman cited the play of Francisco Longo at linebacker and said that Engle did the best he could under some relentless Simsbury defense. Injuries have depleted Avon’s offensive line as the season has gone on. “Tabor was definitely under some heat,” he said. “We were down linemen. We have had two broken legs and two (injured) shoulders (taking players off the field). The kids that stepped in did the best job they could.”
Simsbury now awaits their opponent in the Class LL tournament. The Trojans are currently the No. 5 seed but could move up as high as four and earn the right to host a quarterfinal game. Those pairings should be available after Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day contests.
NOTES: Simsbury leads the Valley Gridiron Classic series, 4-1. The Trojans lead the overall series between the two schools that began in 1961 by a 9-5 margin. … Simsbury’s Zack Gilbert has caught 10 touchdown passes, which is two shy of the single season record of 12 set by John Coleman in 1968. … The last time that Simsbury went to the CIAC playoffs was in 2009 when the Trojans were 9-1 in the regular season. … This will be Simsbury’s fifth trip to the playoffs. The Trojans qualified in 1993 and 1994 when it was just the top two teams earning playoff berths and in 2008 and 2009 when the top four teams qualified.
Simsbury 47, Avon 10
Avon (2-8) 0 3 7 0 – 10
Simsbury (9-1) 14 27 6 0 – 47
S: Dan Sohn 1 run (Caden Lill kick), 6:42
S: Zack Gilbert 23 pass from Aiden Boeshans (Lill kick), 5:29
S: Gilbert 38 pass from Boeshans (Lill kick), 11:36
S: Jeffrey Coleman 21 pass from Boeshans (Lill kick), 7:55
S: Brendan Gaffney 37 pass from Boeshans (kick blocked), 4:01
A: Kevin Mullaj 33 FG, 2:13
S: Coleman 5 pass from Boeshans (Lill kick), 0:52
A: Colby Nemarich 29 pass from Tabor Engle (Mullaj kick), 8:53
S: John Mairano 25 run (run fails), 6:31
MISSED FG: Lill 44
RUSHING: Avon – Quantrel Stewart 3-24, Francesco Longo 7-7, Sean Nolan 1-26, Tabor Engle 12-minus 14; Simsbury – Kye Terry 11-43, Aiden Boeshans 5-23, John Mairano 7-45, Dan Sohn 10-39, Brendan Gaffney 2-19
PASSING: Avon – Tabor Engle 7-20-3, 114; Simsbury – Aiden Boeshans 15-18-1, 238
RECEIVING: Avon – Quantel Stewart 2-14, Colby Nemarich 3-50, Aaron Baldof 1-24, Sean Nolan 1-26; Simsbury – Drew Dubois 1-10, Dan Sohn 1-8, Brendan Gaffney 2-51, Michael Schulitz 1-24, Zack Gilbert 4-77, Jeffrey Coleman 6-70
INTERCEPTION: Sohn (S) 2-21, Nolan (A) 1-0, Gaffney (S) 1-0; SACK: Arjun Bhamidipati (S) 1-12, Tommy Dennehy (S) 1-2; RETURNS: Kickoffs – Coleman (S) 1-42, Gaffney (S) 1-15, Sohn (S) 1-54, Nolan (A) 3-37, Stewart (A) 1-5, Jake Bredice (A) 1-0; Punts – Gaffney (S) 2-22