A lesson in perspective for ECC's best
It is virtually impossible to maintain perspective on such nights, not with the swells of emotion that accompany culmination games and the hovering sense of finality.
But the next time somebody from our corner of the world blathers on about the various advantages NFA enjoys over the rest of the population, the Wildcats can lean on the newer, bigger perspective that came in Friday's 48-14 loss to Xavier of Middletown, one of the state's high school football Gatsbys.
We've heard it before ad nauseum: NFA is the biggest school in the ECC. Draws from all those towns. Big, bad NFA. And then came Friday when the Wildcats and all the fans they brought to the state championship game learned that true Goliaths wear black.
NFA got the full Xavier experience. Like DeAngelo Berry, the running back with 260 rushing yards, the kid who hails from Ellington. Yes, Ellington. It's an hour from Middletown. It's like if NFA had a kid from New Haven. (Could you imagine the hyperventilating around here if NFA could bring in kids from an hour away?)
Xavier, now the three-time defending state Class LL champion, trumpets a student body from what one school official at Friday's game estimated from "60-65 towns" in Connecticut. Think about that. Connecticut has 169 towns. That means Xavier owns roughly one-third of it. One school. One-third of the state.
Sort of makes NFA look like Wheeler by comparison, doesn't it?
Now none of this meant NFA was predestined to get trampled Friday night. But the Wildcats learned all over again what John Facenda says on the classic NFL Films soundtracks: Football is a rough game and often a cruel one.
Marcus Outlow, the whiz kid running back, left early with an injury and was never the same. No one in black cared. The train's comin,' as New London assistant coach Tommie Major likes to say. And Xavier was happy to bring it. Quite happy.
"Their quotes in the paper made our locker room," Xavier assistant coach Mark Congdon said after the game. "A lot of material."
Congdon was the only man on the field to have coached at both schools. He coached with Mark Ambruso at Bacon Academy (when the Bobcats made the playoffs) and at NFA. His perspective, too, has grown since leaving us for the big, bad Southern Connecticut Conference.
"One thing they need to learn," Congdon said of NFA, "is that if Jemal (Davis, NFA's coach) is ever going to do something there, he's got to make sure that stuff never makes the papers."
A few Xavier players said some quotes attributed to various NFA players were disrespectful. Perhaps they were being a little sensitive. But then, why irritate the two-time defending state champs before the game?
"It was inspiring to us," Xavier (and BC-bound) quarterback Tim Boyle said. "When a team doesn't think highly of you and talks a little smack, you love it and you feed off it. Some of their quotes ended up in our lockers. I think we proved ourselves tonight."
And in a way, so did NFA. The crowd was listed at 4,576. Maybe 2,500 of that wore red. Anyone who has ever had an affinity for The Academy would have shed a tear at the scene before the game when the Wildcats ran on the field for the first time.
"When you look out into the stands and see the support," Davis said, "the NFA community was here in full force. They believed in us. Unfortunately, we couldn't come way with the win. But our kids know how much they mean to the NFA community. If you look around, there were also ECC members here in support, too. We're moving in the right direction and hopefully one day we'll get back here. Now we know what it's like."
Xavier already knew what it was like. Twice (now three times) over. And today, one-third of the state rejoices in the third state title in as many years.
NFA, the biggest school we know, didn't look so big Friday night. That's because it ran into one of the biggies. Perspective can be quite educational sometimes.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.