REDDING — Newtown High School’s football team overcame its first deficit of the season, a trio of rushing touchdowns called back on holding penalties, the opposition recovering an onside kick, and a pair of interceptions — including one that was returned for a touchdown — to pull out a 49-36 win under the lights at Joel Barlow on October 4.
The visiting Nighthawks converted a pair of crucial fourth down plays, one for a touchdown and another which led to a score, en route to improving to 4-0. The Falcons came out on the short end for the first time this fall, dropping to 3-1.
Quarterback Drew Tarantino threw six touchdown passes for Newtown — three each to Julian Dunn and Troy Frangione — and defensive end Ryan Shaw came up with a game-icing interception and TD. Shaw picked off a final-minute pass at the two yard line and took one step into the end zone to cap the scoring.
The Nighthawks jumped out to a fast start, and a 14-0 lead. Dunn had a 36-yard TD reception following a 25-yard Cooper Gold run. The game’s first score capped a two-play, game-opening drive that resulted in only 40 seconds of time elapsing.
Newtown’s defense forced a three and out and added to its lead. Tarantino escaped what seemed to be a sure quarterback sack to connect with Jared Pearson for a first down on Newtown’s second drive. That helped set up a 27-yard scoring strike to Frangione over the middle to end a three-play (plus one penalty) drive. It was 14-0 Nighthawks with 7:03 to play in the first quarter.
“We felt we could exploit their secondary a little tonight. That was the game plan,” Newtown Coach Steve George said.
The Falcons clawed back and got even by the end of the first — then went ahead in the second quarter. The Tarantino-to-Dunn connection got Newtown even when the QB and receiver combined to convert a fourth and six from the Barlow nine-yard line for scoring play with 6:16 to go before halftime. Another nine-yard scoring play from Tarantino to Dunn made it 28-21 Hawks with 25 seconds left on the second quarter clock.
Frangione caught a 17-yard TD pass to get things going in the third, making it 35-21 NHS. The Falcons answered to pull to within a touchdown again before the end of the third, and had a drive deep into the Nighthawk territory with a chance to tie the score in the fourth. Newtown’s Nick Lotrecchiano came up with a clutch interception — in the end zone — to thwart Barlow’s potential game-tying drive with 8:58 left in the contest.
Tarantino, on his team’s ensuing possession, kept the chains moving with a crucial fourth and seven completion to Frangione which led to Frangione’s 24-yard TD catch. That gave the Hawks a 42-28 cushion with 4:47 remaining. Barlow answered back with a quick score and two-point conversion, making it 42-36 with 3:48 to play.
After Gold had a long touchdown run called back on one of the many holding calls against the Hawks, Dunn made a diving catch for a 30-yard gain to the Falcon 12. Newtown stayed aggressive in an attempt to put the game away, but Tarantino was intercepted with just 1:05 left. The Falcons took over at their own eight but Shaw ended things with 44 seconds showing on the scoreboard clock.
Otto Kerler, wide receiver filling in for injured kicker Connor Miller, connected on all seven of Newtown's extra point kick attempts.
“We showed a lot of heart tonight. We kept pushing back,” Tarantino said. “We just kept bouncing back. I think we came together as a team tonight.”
George was pleased that his team fought back, but noted that mistakes led to his squad falling behind. In addition to the early-game pick-six, Barlow recovered the ball on and onside kick after tying the game at 14 apiece. The recovery led to the Falcons’ go-ahead score.
“That changed the game. We let ’em back in,” George said.
The Falcons, however, simply couldn’t stop the three-headed offensive monster of Tarantino, Dunn, and Frangione.
“I put the game on Drew’s shoulders and in the end he won it,” George said. “That was a big win.”