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NFA routs New London 49-12 and clinches Class LL playoff berth

Norwich — The first half Wednesday was close even after Norwich Free Academy took an eight-point lead over New London with just over a minute left in the first half.

NFA seniors Andrew Cote and Damien Bleau proceeded to ignite their team and send them charging into the CIAC Class LL football playoffs.

Cote blocked a Whalers’ punt and Bleau recovered it at the New London 6-yard line with 14.6 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

The Wildcats scored on the next play and kept the throttle down in the second half as they punished New London 49-12 in the 158th renewal of the nation’s high school football oldest rivalry.

“You could just feel it on the sidelines,” Cote said. “The energy, it was a lot higher than it was before.”

Bleau said, “Everything started to change. We just came (into the second half) rolling.”

Bleau had four catches for 91 yards and a game-high three touchdowns.

NFA is 7-3 overall and won the Eastern Connecticut Conference’s Division I title with a 4-0 record.

The Wildcats will be seeded eighth if Greenwich (8-1) beat Staples (2-7) on
Thursday. They have a slim chance to move up to seventh if Staples stuns the
Cardinals. Either way they will be on the road next Tuesday for the quarterfinals.

NFA is just the sixth three-loss team to qualify in Class LL since the CIAC added a quarterfinal round.

The Wildcats have won seven of the last 10 meetings against New London (4-6, 0-4). They lead the series, which dates back to 1875, 79-68-11.

NFA went 77 yards in six plays late in the first half. The drive culminated with Jayden Desilus throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Bleau that give the Wildcats’ a 14-6 lead with 1:04 left in the half.

New London went three-and-out, including a running play that went out of bounds and stopped the clock with 20.2 seconds remaining.

Cote, a receiver who was just added to special teams weeks ago, blocked the punt, and Bleau was right there to grab the ball.

“We put the best guys out on the field and say, ‘let’s go make plays’,” Wildcats head coach Jason Bakoulis said about putting Cote on special teams.

Desilus threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to junior Xavier Fonvil on the next play as NFA went ahead 21-6.

“(It was) 7-6 for a while, things were feeling pretty (good),” New London head coach Johnny Burns said. “(Then) mishaps here, mishaps there.

“It shouldn’t have been the knockout punch, but unfortunately we far from executed anything in the second half. That just killed us.”

Desilus completed 13 of 29 passes for 231 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions for the Wildcats.

Cote had four catches for 73 yards and a touchdown and Fonvil also scored on a 1-yard run for NFA.

Jaylen Callender ran six times for 67 yards, Josiah Williams had 14 carries for 54 yards, and Germiah Ballinger scored on a 3-yard run for New London.

Erick McNeil scored on a 2-yard interception return for the Whalers. Dannett Mustafa also had an interception on NFA’s first drive that set up a New London touchdown that put it ahead 6-0 just 2:14 into the game.

The Whalers got the ball to start the second half, but Nick Koniecko’s third-down sack forced them to go three-and-out.

Bleau caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Desilus to push the Wildcats’ lead to 28-6 with 6:27 left in the third quarter.

NFA got the ball back two minutes later and, on first down, Bleau made a terrific catch in double-coverage at about the New London 28 and took it in for a 55-yard touchdown.

“Believe it or not, I’m actually pretty slow, but I have quick feet and I worked on that in the offseason a lot,” Bleau said.

Cote said of Bleau, “We knew he was a playmaker. Everybody on our team knows he can do that. He just hasn’t had the chance to show it.”

On the Whalers’ next offensive play, the Wildcats’ Silas Gates recovered a fumble and returned it for a 35-yard touchdown to push his team’s lead to 42-6 with 3:58 remaining in the quarter and start running time.

n.griffen@theday.com

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