Many happy returns for Richards, NFA football

Norwich — Saturday was Austin Richards’ time. Finally.

Richards, a senior, was going to quarterback Norwich Free Academy last season.

Instead, he missed the entire season because he needed elbow surgery last summer.

All of his rehabilitation — and the wait — was worth it.

Richards threw three touchdowns passes to classmate Andrew Cote and scrambled for a game-winning 29-yard touchdown with 2 minutes, 38 seconds left to help NFA rally for a 37-27 win over Xavier in a Connecticut High School Football Alliance crossover game.

Now that’s how you come back from injury.

“It was a pass play,” Richards said about his game-winning touchdown. "I took my three-step (drop) and (Xavier’s defense) all bailed back (into pass coverage). So I’m like, ‘alright, this is my time. So I ran it. Boom.

“I had one guy to beat and him miss. He was not tackling me. He was not tackling me. I bounced it outside and scored a touchdown. I came back for the team.”

Xavier went ahead 27-16 on a 45-yard interception return by Ryan Miner with 9:35.

“I was a little nervous (down 11), but I knew our defense was going to get a stop, and I knew our offense could play a lot better than we did,” Cote said. “I knew our offense could come back from that.”

Richards was 21 of 33 for 243 yards with three touchdowns — all to Cote — and two interceptions. He also ran nine times for 74 yards.

Cote, who broke his ankle five games into last season, finished with 10 catches for 190 yards.

Sophomore Maxson Pierre-Louis had six catches for 35 yards for the Wildcats and senior Damien Bleau added six catches for 30 yards.

Sophomore Drew Kron completed 21 of 31 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Falcons. He also ran 15 times for 53 yards.

Miner had nine catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.

NFA was down 11 and facing a fourth-and-2 at midfield with over 8 minutes left when Bleau caught a 3-yard screen pass from Richards to keep the drive alive.

Cote caught a pass from Richards two plays later and weaved his away into the open field for a 43-yard touchdown with 8 minutes left, cutting NFA’s deficit to 27-23.

The Wildcats turned Xavier over on downs on its next possession at their own 19 with 3:41 remaining.

Richards ran for a 14 yards on first down and threw back-to-back completions to Pierre-Louis (4) and Cote (35). He followed with his game-winning run.

NFA junior defensive lineman Joe Klick returned a fumble 35 yards for the game’s final points, setting off the team’s biggest celebration of the day.

“For our guys, every day is overcoming adversity,” NFA head coach Jason Bakoulis said. “It doesn’t matter what it is. You have to have that mindset.

“(Everything is) a new rep. We treat it one rep at a time. So that rep is over, move on to the next, whatever happens good or bad.”

NFA held a moment of silence before the game in honor of former graduate Jim Molkenthin, who died last week. His son, Jim, is NFA's freshman coach, and grandson Nolan is a senior wide receiver.

n.griffen@theday.com

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