Wildcats looking for a new beginning

NFA's Khaleed Exum-Strong, right, will be one of the keys to the Wildcats offense tonight as it takes on No. 4 Southington in the quarterfinals of the Class LL playoffs. NFA (8-2) is the No. 5 seed.
NFA's Khaleed Exum-Strong, right, will be one of the keys to the Wildcats offense tonight as it takes on No. 4 Southington in the quarterfinals of the Class LL playoffs. NFA (8-2) is the No. 5 seed. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich - Now there's a new canvas, beautifully blank. All the wouldas, couldas and shouldas from the regular season get flushed. This is the playoffs.

And so maybe Norwich Free Academy's football season has not transpired as originally planned. Not with the promise of a Division I running back (Marcus Outlow) and the return of all-state caliber lineman Tuzar Skipper. But it matters not anymore. The Wildcats (9-2) are back in the playoffs with a chance to earn the school's first football state title.

NFA, the fifth seed in Class LL, plays at No. 4 Southington tonight. The Wildcats made the finals a season ago, upsetting Newtown and Staples along the way.

Whether they can return - and win - a division with regulars Xavier and Staples home is tied to what has plagued them all season, at least against quality teams. Can NFA maintain any consistency?

"We had no rhythm," NFA coach Jemal Davis said of the Thanksgiving Day loss to New London. "I'm more disappointed in the lack of rhythm we should have had. Tackles for loss, penalties, they got us off schedule. It's hard to do things that way."

Davis could have said the same about the loss earlier in the season to Glastonbury. NFA lost 6-0 despite a sizeable advantage in yards.

Southington, which defeated Glastonbury (16-9), lost only to Class LL quarterfinalist Hall of West Hartford, 49-37. This is a potent offense, led by quarterback Stephen Barmore, who has completed 66 percent of his passes this season for 2,382 yards, 32 touchdowns and five interceptions. His favorite target is receiver Alex Jamele, who has 59 receptions for 1,263 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Southington averages 241 passing yards and 155 rushing yards per game.

Outlow, who was injured during the New London game but is expected to play, leads NFA with more than 1,300 rushing yards.

The winner of this game plays the winner of the game between No. 1 Newtown and No. 8 Ridgefield at 2 p.m. Saturday at a site and time to be determined by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

m.dimauro@theday.com

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