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Griswold - What Norwich Free Academy coach Jemal Davis will take away from Friday night's game, the Wildcats' fourth straight blowout, are plays such as Nick Cardelle's.
Cardelle, a senior tight end, was trailing a passing play in the first half when a ball thrown by quarterback Joey Paparelli was tipped up in the air by Griswold defender Jordan Gionet.
Cardelle ran under the ball, made the catch, and sprinted for a 55-yard touchdown, giving unbeaten NFA a 26-0 lead on the way to a 40-14 victory over Griswold in a mismatch between Eastern Connecticut Conference Large (NFA) vs. ECC Small (Griswold) programs.
"It was a hustle play," Davis said. He was not dogging it even though he wasn't the primary receiver. ... Every time you come out and play, you can get better."
Paparelli was 4-for-7 passing for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and ran four times for 125 yards and another touchdown before exiting the game at halftime in favor of sophomore quarterback Albert Tulli.
Paparelli threw a 30-yard touchdown to Ryer Caruso to start the Wildcats' scoring on their first drive. His 80-yard touchdown run came on an option play, on which he faked a pitch, with 50.1 seconds remaining in the first half. That gave NFA (8-0) a 33-0 lead at halftime.
NFA has now beaten East Lyme (47-6), Stamford (51-0), Bacon Academy (31-6) and Griswold, while trying to hone its game for the next two weeks' matchups against Waterford and New London and for a likely Class LL postseason bid.
The victory also marked the return of Davis, who sat out last week's win over Bacon while serving NFA's self-imposed one-game suspension for violating the CIAC's score management policy (50-point rule) against Stamford.
"I think it's a good win," said Paparelli, who ignited the passing attack after Griswold's defense set up to stop the run and particularly to halt running back Marcus Outlow on the outside.
"We had to play a different game than we normally do and the field was sloppy (NFA plays on turf). We were firing on all cylinders right away. It was chemistry-building. It was a good step forward. We played the way we thought we would."
Outlow had one rushing touchdown for NFA and Khaleed Exum-Strong had two, one in each half. Exum-Strong provided the final marquee moment for the Wildcats on their final offensive series.
Exum-Strong ran the ball 10 straight plays on the drive, more or less up the middle each time, gaining 63 yards and scoring from 5 yards out with 1:17 left for the final margin.
Griswold, which punted on one third-and-30 play in the first half, scored twice in the second half on throws from quarterback Adam Davis to Gionet. The first was a 32-yard strike down the middle to make it 33-7. The second was a 55-yard pass that made it 33-14 with 5:51 to play.
Davis, the NFA coach, warned about making the mistake of judging a team just by the size of the school.
"In 2008 (Griswold) beat us (22-13) and we had a good team," Davis said. "It's about talent. It's not about class size."
And he'd like his team to be sharp no matter the opponent.
Said Davis: "We can prepare our offense. We can prepare our defense. Those are things we can do."