NFA holds off New London 14-6

New London's Tyrell Martinez (15) drags down NFA quarterback Jawaun Johnson in Thanksgiving Day high school football action Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. NFA emerged with a 14-6 win in the oldest high school football rivalry in the country. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
New London's Tyrell Martinez (15) drags down NFA quarterback Jawaun Johnson in Thanksgiving Day high school football action Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. NFA emerged with a 14-6 win in the oldest high school football rivalry in the country. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Norwich — If Griffen Gooden's Thanksgiving Day dinner went anything like his Thanksgiving Day football game, he likely ended up with both the extra turkey leg and the last helping of mashed potatoes.

The Norwich Free Academy senior lined up at wide receiver for the first half and caught a touchdown pass, then scored a rushing touchdown while playing quarterback for the bulk of the second half, helping the Wildcats to a 14-6 win over New London on Thursday morning in the renewal of the nation's oldest high school football rivalry.

"I came in thinking I was going to be taking the snaps so that's what I was prepared for," said Gooden, who played five games at quarterback this year in place of the injured Jawaun Johnson.

Gooden played Thursday's first series at quarterback with Johnson at tailback. Once Johnson showed he was good to go, he moved to quarterback and Gooden went out wide. But Gooden went back under center when Johnson left the game after injuring his shoulder on the third play of the third quarter.

"I was ready to do whatever my coaches needed me to do," Gooden said. "I'll go play quarterback but I love being out at wide receiver. I definitely feel more comfortable there. But I got the best of both worlds today with the two touchdowns."

The first score came with just five second left in the half. An interception gave NFA (6-4, 2-3 Eastern Connecticut Conference Large) the ball at its own 35 with 1:20 to go. Johnson sandwiched completions to Gooden of 18 and seven yards around two runs of his own for five and 19.

That set the Wildcats up at the Whalers' 16. An eight-yard gain by Johnson on fourth-and-3 gave NFA one last chance before half. Coach Jemal Davis originally called for his field goal team but changed his mind and left the offense on the field.

It turned out to be a good decision when Gooden reached up in traffic for Johnson's pass and came down with it in the end zone, giving NFA a 7-0 lead going into the locker room.

The Whalers (2-8, 1-4) didn't have a lot of opportunities in the half, as they had the ball for only three possessions and a total of about eight minutes. Their last two possessions ended in interceptions. The start of the second half saw them fumble away the opening kickoff, turn the ball over on downs deep in their territory after a bad snap on a punt (that led to Griffen's four-yard run while playing quarterback), a turnover on the ensuing kickoff, and an interception late in the third quarter.

"The turnovers hurt early in the game," New London coach Duane Maranda said. "First half, both teams were moving the ball well and the clock was running. We came out with some new things and I thought we moved the ball real well in them. I wish we could've stayed in it a little bit longer but the clock situation kind of took us out of it."

But they still had a shot in the fourth quarter. Roy Starks picked off a pass with about six minutes to go in the game. Quarterback Melquan Gomez led New London down the field by rushing four times for 21 yards and completing four passes for 42 yards, the last 13 going to D. Major Roman for a touchdown at the three-minute mark.

NFA recovered the onsides kick and ran two minutes off the clock before being forced to punt. New London got to midfield, and Gomez's Hail Mary was caught around the 20-yard-line before NFA's Darby Ransford Jr. stripped the ball away as the clock ran out.

"We knew coming in that we were going to be young and only had three starters coming back," Maranda said. "We had a lot of kids out there who had to learn how to play varsity football, and by the end of the year we did it. We'll give them December off, then it's back in the weight room starting January."

NFA's Jack Ryan (44) intercepts a pass intended for New London's D. Major Roman (80) in Thanksgiving Day high school football action Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
NFA's Jack Ryan (44) intercepts a pass intended for New London's D. Major Roman (80) in Thanksgiving Day high school football action Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
NFA's Caleb Parker (10) and Jack Ryan (44) tackle New London's Kobe Haley (37) in Thanksgiving Day high school football action Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
NFA's Caleb Parker (10) and Jack Ryan (44) tackle New London's Kobe Haley (37) in Thanksgiving Day high school football action Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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