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Aggressive Falcons rebound with dominant win over Lions, 47-15

Avon High’s Nik Meltser (25) ran back a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns as the Falcons won their third game of the season on Thursday night.

AVON, Oct. 20, 2022 – It takes a while to get adjusted to the speed and intensity of varsity football.

Avon High sophomore Nik Meltser was making plays – he ran for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Bristol Eastern earlier this season — but he wasn’t always the most aggressive on kickoff and punt returns.

“We told him (this week in practice) that if you get an opportunity, you return it,” Avon High football coach Brendan Smith said. ”He just has such a great football instinct.”

Early in Thursday night’s Central Connecticut Conference game against Northwest Catholic, Meltser was going to let a booming punt from the Lions’ Boomer Staunton roll out of bounds. But Meltser saw teammate David Minami throw a block that put a Northwest Catholic player on his back.

“I was going to let it go but I saw David Minami just clear (out) some kid and I saw and open lane,” Meltser said. “I just picked it up and ran. I just ran.”

Meltser ran back a punt 73 yards for a touchdown and tied a school record by running back a kickoff back 85 yards to help lift the Falcons to a 47-15 win over the Lions Thursday night on the turf field outside Avon High.

Meltser also ran for 82 yards on 10 carries and returned two other punts for another 23 yards.

Avon’s Connor Lavore scored a pair of touchdowns and ran for a career-high 167 yards on 16 carries with the Falcons forcing three Lion turnovers. Nick Russo and Tanner Cote each came up with interceptions while Andrew Sielski recovered a fumble late in the second quarter than set up a touchdown.

Senior Anna Loveless became the first girl in program history to score in a varsity game by kicking three extra points as Avon (3-3) won for the third time in the last four weeks.

It was a welcoming performance after a disappointing 39-0 loss to Platt High two weeks ago.

“(The loss to) Platt hurt,” Smith said. “It hurt all of us a lot. We learned to win against Stratford and Bristol Eastern but we had forgotten how much work it takes each week to get to that point. We spent the entire bye week talking about fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.”

Meltser said, “We worked on fundamentals. Blocking, tackling and hitting the hole That led to the success we had today.”

After forcing Northwest Catholic (1-5) to punt after their first series, Meltser put Avon on top, 6-0, with his 73-yard kickoff return. Loveless’ extra point attempt was wide.

On Northwest Catholic’s next series, the Lions lost 21 yards. Malachi Hymes was caught in the backfield for a nine-yard loss and Avon’s Toby Klafter sacked Staunton for a 12-yard loss.

An 11-yard punt return from Meltser put the ball on the Lions’ 32-yard line. Five plays later, it was Cole MIlardo with a one-yard run for his first touchdown of the year. Loveless’ kick was good for a 13-0 lead and she entered the Falcon record books.

Cole Milardo (10, right) breaks up the pass attempt in Thursday night’s win over Northwest Catholic.

Northwest Catholic had some big plays but penalties wiped out two potential touchdowns and a third one was lost when an open receiver dropped a pass in the end zone.

Avon extended the lead to 20-0 on a seven-yard run from Lavore early in the second quarter. Loveless hit the extra point. An 18-yard run from Lavore with 7:26 left in the first half extended the lead to 28-0.

Northwest Catholic got on the board when Brady Brennan recovered a Falcon fumble in the end zone to cut the lead to 28-7. Avon had the ball on their own one-yard line and Lavore struggled to hold on to a high snap and lost it with 3:38 left in the first half.

When the Lions fumbled the ball away on their own 16-yard line with 18 seconds left in the first half, Avon took advantage. Sielski recovered the loose ball.

Lavore ran nine yards to the eight-yard line before Avon called timeout with five seconds left. On the next play, it was Klafter scoring on an eight-yard reverse for a 34-7 lead at the half.

John Murphy scored his first varsity TD on a 25-yard run early in the third quarter to extend the lead to 40-7.

Avon’s Nick Russo (5) breaks up a play during Thursday night’s win over Northwest Catholic.

Meltser added a record-tying 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 4:55 left in the game to complete the scoring for the Falcons. He lost two fumbles in the course of the game and wanted to make up for it.

He tied the record first set by Bill Loeffler against Bloomfield in 1967 and tied by Rainey against Tolland in 1991.

Added Smith, “The name of the game this week was attack and be aggressive.”

Meltser’s 73-yard punt return tied the record for the second-longest in school history. Steve Donahue had a 73-yard punt return against Woodrow Wilson in 1972. The record is a 75-yard return by Frank against Wolcott High in 1986.

The 32-point victory was the largest margin of victory for the Falcons in the series that began in 1982, eclipsing a 25-point win in 1998. It was the most points that Avon has scored in the series, which is now tied at 13-13.

Avon 47, N.W. Catholic 15
At Avon
NW Catholic (1-5)           0    7  0  8  — 15
Avon (3-3)                       13  21  6  7  — 47
First quarter
A: Nik Meltser 73 punt return (kick fails), 11:12
A: Cole Milardo 1 run (Anna Loveless kick), 6:36
Second quarter
A: Connor Lavore 7 run (Loveless kick), 11:22
A: Lavore 18 run (Lavore run), 7:26
NW: Brady Brennan recovers fumble in end zone (Boomer Staunton kick), 3:38
A: Toby Klafter 8 run (kick blocked), 0:00
Third quarter
A: John Murphy 25 run (kick fails), 10:23
Fourth quarter
NW: Cole Popella 4 pass from Staunton (Brennan run), 5:10
A: Meltser 85 kickoff return (Loveless kick), 4:55
Individual statistics
RUSHING: NWC – Boomer Staunton 9-50, Malachi Hymes 6-minus 13, Michael Machon 2-minus 1, David Calendrillo 4-12, Avon – John Murphy 5-29, David Minami 2-minus 1, Nik Meltser 10-82, Gabe Maldonado 1-minus 1, Mason Eckerlin 3-20, Connor Lavore 16-167, Toby Klafter 1-8, Cole Milardo 3-4
PASSING: NWC – Boomer Staunton 15-34-2, 120; Avon — Connor Lavore 0-1-0
RECEIVING: NWC – Brady Brennan 6-33, Cole Popella 8-88, Malachi Hymes 1-minus 1
RETURNS: Punts – Nik Meltser (A) 3-98, Kickoffs – Dante Cirikovic (A) 1-0, Malachi Hymes (NW) 3-60, Kayden Davis (NW) 2-29, Meltser (A) 1-85; INTERCEPTIONS: Tanner Cote (A) 1-8, Nick Russo (A) 1-0; FUMBLE REC: Andrew Sielski (A), Brady Brennan (NW), Leroy Bailey (NW); SACK: Toby Klafter (A) 1-12

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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