The first half ended with such promise.
was nursing a one-point lead when quarterback George Lund stepped up in the pocket and drilled a strike to Ernie Green at the goal line as time evaporated in the second quarter. The Warriors raced to the locker room with visions of victory.
Less than two hours later, the same locker room was flooded by a sea of tears.
Newtown’s version of thunder and lightning – Lou Fenaroli and Dan Hebert – combined for four touchdowns and nearly 250 yards rushing in the second half Tuesday night to lead the sixth-seeded Nighthawks to a 36-22 victory over No. 3 Hall in a Class LL quarterfinal at Robert Chalmers Stadium.
Newtown (9-2) advances to Saturday’s semifinals to meet Staples. Hall (9-2) is now 0-for-5 in playoff games
Hall coach Frank Robinson III couldn’t help but be moved by the utter disappointment his players felt after the drastic reversal. The Warriors’ defense had limited Newtown’s explosive running game to just 45 yards in the first half. The Nighthawks’ problems with the center snap cost them 41 yards, a safety and two possessions.
The swiftness of the fall made it all the more painful.
Any momentum Hall enjoyed from the Lund-to-Green connection with nine-tenths of a second left in the first half caved in on the first play after intermission.
Hebert, whose experience with the direct snap in the first half left him with minus-6 yards, exploded into the secondary and raced 59 yards to pay dirt.
The Hall offense responded promptly with Lund engineering a seven-play, 65-yard drive capped by an 11-yard run by Jesse Maltz (2 touchdowns). Newtown strung together four first downs including a 14-yard pass play from quarterback Drew Tarantino to Hebert on a fourth-and-6. After Fenaroli blasted in from the 6, Hall had run out of answers.
“That first play was a big momentum shift because we had it,” Robinson said. “I thought we got the momentum back our way.
“We knew they were very good right from the beginning. Sometimes we were able to stop them and sometimes we couldn’t. They had a [five third- and fourth-down conversions in the second half] and those are big. If we make the plays, we get the ball back and it’s a different outcome.”
Newtown finished off a 21-point third quarter when Fenaroli crashed in from the 3.
“He’s tough to tackle and he uses the stiff arm well,” Robinson said.
Three plays into the fourth, Hebert was off and running again on a 66-yard jaunt that sealed the win for the Southwest Conference runner-up.
“He’s a playmaker no matter where you put him on the field,” Newtown coach Steve George said. “You put him behind the quarterback, you put him out at receiver, he can do damage wherever he goes.”
He carried the ball the final four plays of the drive covering 30 yards. He also ran the ball on 14 of the Nighthawks’ 16 plays from scrimmage in the fourth quarter as they killed the clock in the pouring rain.
“The mistakes in the first half is what really kept us out of our game,” George said. “I felt like if we cut those down, we’d be okay and that was the case.”
Hall’s evening began uneventfully.
A penalty and a coverage sack short-circuited the Warriors’ first possession and a four-yard punt further muddled the picture by giving Newtown a short field.
Despite a bad snap that left Newtown with a fourth-and-20, the Nighthawks converted the first down. Fenaroli powered in from the 9.
To Hall’s benefit, Newtown’s miscommunication problem between center and quarterback continued. When it recurred near the Newtown goal after a 46-yard punt by Lund, Christian Bonilla tackled Tarantino in the end zone for a safety.
Hall took the ensuing free kick and marched 40 yards in nine plays to take the lead. The key play was Lund’s 13-yard scramble on fourth-and-10 on the Newtown 28. Lund connected with Ian Dugger on an 11-yard pass to the 1 and Maltz finished. The two-point conversion failed and Hall settled for an 8-7 edge.
Both defenses stiffened in the second quarter but the Warriors went on the march with 1:46 left. Lund converted three consecutive third downs, leaving the ball on the Newtown 21 with time left for one play. Lund’s laser to Green made it 14-7.
Hall led 22-20 when two of its defensive stars – linebacker Maltz and lineman Zach Duzan – had to be helped off the field. With two key elements in the run defense out, Newtown took advantage.
“They’re both very big guys,” Robinson said. “They both had cramps. We weren’t able to get them back in the game as quickly as we wanted to. But that’s part of the game. It’s not every day that things go your way and that definitely was true in the second half.”
Nevertheless, Robinson had high praise for a team that was thought to be in a rebuilding mode after losing record-breaking quarterback Riley Carroll and much of his supporting cast.
“It’s one of the most pleasurable [teams] I’ve ever coached,” Robinson said. “They’re just awesome kids. They do what you ask. This is one of those teams you don’t forget. I’m glad these kids showed everybody they could play because that’s what they did.”
Class LL Quarterfinal
Newtown 36, Hall 22
At Robert Chalmers Stadium, West Hartford
Newtown (9-2) 7 0 21 8 – 36
Hall (9-2) 8 6 8 0 – 22
N – Lou Fenaroli 9 run (Jeff Tolson kick), 8:07
H – Safety, Drew Tarantino tackled in end zone by Christian Bonilla, 5:48
H – Jesse Maltz 1 run (run failed), 2:56
H – Ernie Green 21 pass from George Lund (kick failed), :00.9
N – Dan Hebert 59 run (Tolson kick), 11:46
H – Maltz 11 run (Lund run), 9:19
N – Fenaroli 6 run (pass failed), 6:38
N – Fenaroli 3 run (Fenaroli run ), :48.4
N – Hebert 66 run (Fenaroli pass from Tarantino), 11:33
RUSHING – Newtown: Fenaroli 31-136, Hebert 10-142, Tarantino 4-13, Team 4-(-47). Hall: Christian Bohn 15-57, Maltz 4-25, Lund 5-(-2).
PASSING – Newtown: Tarantino 9-11-0, 107 yds.; Hebert 0-1-0, 0 yds. Hall: Lund 14-37-1, 154 yds.
RECEIVING – Newtown: Hebert 4-43, Mike Allwein 1-19, Justin Devellis 1-2, Julian Dunn 3-43. Hall: Ian Dugger 4-50, Devin Ortiz 1-14, L.T. Nembhard 1-4, Ernie Green 3-47, Christian Bohn 2-22, Sal Ghamo 3-17.