The night turns out half empty for NFA
East Hartford - It was halftime Friday and Norwich Free Academy somehow still had a shot at winning the Class LL state football championship.
The Wildcats watched all-everything tailback Marcus Outlow get hurt on the sixth play of the game. Defensive back Chris Johnson went down several plays later with an ankle injury and couldn't return. They struggled to move the ball.
Yet it was halftime, and NFA only trailed Class LL kingpin Xavier by six points.
The second half began ... and Xavier proceeded to batter the Wildcats.
The Falcons ran for 408 yards and six touchdowns and routed NFA 48-14 to win a state-record third straight Class LL championship before 4,576 at Rentschler Field.
"I thought we were going to shut the run down completely," Wildcats senior Joey Paparelli said. "They came out ready for it and they played a great game. There's no doubt about it."
NFA, ranked eighth in The Day's Top 10 state coaches' poll, finished 12-1.
"We're moving in the right direction and will continue to do that," NFA coach Jemal Davis said. "Hopefully one day, we'll get back here and it'll be ours. Now we know what it's like."
NFA was feeling good about itself at halftime. It scored with a second left to cut its deficit to 20-14.
"I was concerned because they had all the momentum going into the half," Falcons coach Sean Marinan said. "I was getting flashbacks to the Hand (of Madison) game (a 40-20 loss)."
Xavier outgained the Wildcats in the second half, 258-63.
"We were excited," Davis said. "We thought, 'Hey, if we could just come up with a way to stop them offensively, we would be alright.'
"We just missed some opportunities, but that's the game."
It didn't help the Wildcats that Outlow pulled a muscle in the back of his ankle on his second carry. He returned later, but was too hobbled.
"They (Xavier) deserved it," Outlow said. "It's just unfortunate that I couldn't play to my full potential tonight. I was excited because the game plan was to get me the ball 30 times tonight, maybe even more.
"It just sucks that I came out here, and the one game this season that mattered the most, I got hurt. I could've taken it earlier in the season. I would've been fine with that. But to get here and have it happen, it's just unfortunate."
Davis said, "The story is really about what (Xavier) did, not the fact that anybody got injured."
The fifth-ranked Falcons (12-1) finished with an insurmountable 517-169 advantage in offensive yardage.
DeAngelo Berry carried 30 times for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
Xavier ran 52 times for an average of 7.8 yards.
"(Berry) started tearing it up, so we decided to ride him for the duration," Marinan said. "We could tell the beginning of the second half that we were really wearing on them and they weren't going to hold up against the run game."
Paparelli completed 7 of 19 passes for 86 yards with two touchdowns - all to Ryer Caruso - and an interception. Khaleed Exum-Strong ran 12 times for 90 yards for NFA. Elisa Formiglio kicked two extra points to become the first female to score in a state final.
The Falcons led 21-0 when Paparelli threw a 49-yard touchdown to Caruso with one minute, 56 seconds left in the first half.
Xavier fumbled the ensuing kickoff and NFA's Airec Ricks recovered it at the Falcons' 20.
Paparelli threw a 6-yard touchdown to Caruso with a second left in the first half.
"We knew we gave those points away," Berry said. "They didn't earn them. We knew we had to go out there and make a (defensive) stop, and that we were going to take the ball and score again and again and again."
NFA had minus 1-yard of total offense in the third quarter.
"It wasn't meant to be, I guess," Paparelli said. "We surpassed a lot of people's expectations. I thought we had it in us. I thought we were going to bring it home, but it just wasn't the case."
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