Whalers beat NFA to earn Class L berth

New London's Kyle McKinnon high-steps into the end zone ahead of NFA's Eric Dimalanta for one of his three touchdowns during the Whalers' 37-17 victory over the Wildcats in Norwich on Thanksgiving morning.
New London's Kyle McKinnon high-steps into the end zone ahead of NFA's Eric Dimalanta for one of his three touchdowns during the Whalers' 37-17 victory over the Wildcats in Norwich on Thanksgiving morning. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich — It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Kyle McKinnon needed to get the ball on every play Thursday with 3,000 people watching and his team's teetering playoff berth.

Maybe only every other play.

You get the idea.

And so did Jeff Larson, the football coach at New London High School, who by the time the 150th New London/Norwich Free Academy game was over, led the Whalers to their third playoff berth in his three seasons as head coach.

"Give it to the go-to guy," Larson said, following the Whalers' 37-17 win, securing the program's 12th state playoff berth.

New London (9-1), seeded fourth in Class L, plays at home in Tuesday's Class L quarterfinals against No. 5 New Canaan, a storied program with eight state titles.

NFA (7-3) was denied a second straight trip to the Class LL playoffs.

McKinnon, a senior recently offered a scholarship to Division I-A Akron University, carried the ball 27 times for 244 yards and three touchdowns. He left the field with the admiration of friend and foe.

"What impressed me," NFA coach Jemal Davis said, "is his ability to hit the hole at full speed. He attacks downhill. If you tackle him high, he'll break it."

New London quarterback Rob Key didn't require nearly as many words to describe his friend.

"He's a beast," Key said.

Good thing, too. Because New London lost an early nine-point lead and was down 17-12 late in the first half. NFA quarterback Erik Washburn was dissecting the New London secondary, throwing touchdown passes to Marcus Outlow (20 yards) and Ryer Caruso (73 yards).

New London rallied late in the half with two scores, stiffened on defense in the second half and pounded the NFA defense with all McKinnon, all the time.

"As long as we win, I don't care what we do," McKinnon sad.

Jevon Elmore's 66-yard touchdown run gave the Whalers an 18-17 lead with 4:28 left in the first half. Then the game turned on the final drive of the half.

Key hit Khaleed Fields with a 43-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the half, a fourth-down pass that almost never happened, giving New London a 25-17 lead at the half.

"I was going to spike the ball to stop the clock," Key said with a sheepish grin. "I didn't realize it was fourth down. Totally my fault. But I looked up and there was Khaleed down the middle."

McKinnon scored on a 16-yard run in the third period and 77-yard touchdown pass in the fourth.

More importantly, though, New London's defense was considerably better.

"We didn't feel their corners could play our guys," Davis said. "I don't think they were able to."

Davis, though, lamented roughing the kicker and roughing the passer penalties that kept drives alive and other missed opportunities.

Washburn finished with 269 yards passing. Key was 11-for-18 for 195 yards and Elmore finished with 85 rushing yards.

m.dimauro@theday.com

New London's Khaleed Fields breaks free for a 43-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half Thursday morning. It helped the Whalers beat rival Norwich Free Academy 37-17 and qualify for the Class L playoffs
New London's Khaleed Fields breaks free for a 43-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half Thursday morning. It helped the Whalers beat rival Norwich Free Academy 37-17 and qualify for the Class L playoffs Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo
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