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NFA football has succeeded by being wildly offensive

Jason Bakoulis knows the stereotype for head coaches who were former defensive coordinators.

“Defensive guys are thought of being ground-and-pound the rock and control the clock,” Bakoulis said.

It’s for that reason that there’s been a bigger emphasis to hire offensive coordinators instead of their defensive peers at the NFL and college level.

Bakoulis has bucked that image when, after four years as Norwich Free Academy’s defensive coordinator, his alma mater elevated him to head coach in 2017. The former Springfield College defensive end has led a team with one of the state’s most prolific passing offenses.

The Wildcats’ wide-open offense helped them earn the No. 8 seed in the CIAC Class LL playoffs. They’ll play at unbeaten and top-seeded Newtown in the quarterfinals on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Asked about his thought process when forming an offensive philosophy as a head coach, Bakoulis said, “Being a defensive coordinator and going against Southington and so many other teams that I had to coach against, especially Southington coming to mind with its no-huddle, up-tempo offense, was a big piece for me.

“I looked at it as a coach, 'what would make my kids hardest to defend?'”

Bakoulis has said that NFA (7-3) will take what a defense gives it, but the Wildcats have thrown the football more than most teams this season. They rank second in passing yards per game (273.1) among teams that inputted their stats into MaxPreps.com’s database. They're also also third in pass attempts (305) and fifth in passing touchdowns (29).

NFA has run it 198 times.

“Offensive coordinator Stephen Burris has really taken the basic idea I had as a head coach and taken it to a whole other level,” Bakoulis said.

NFA’s offense has kept roaring even after losing starter Austin Richards in a Week 3 loss at Shelton and Jakob Hosko in a Week 5 loss at West Haven. Richards threw for a school-record 497 yards in a 41-30 win over Glastonbury in Week 2.

Sophomore Jayden Desilus, who began the year as the third stringer, has played like a veteran. He’s completed 56.2 percent of his passes over six games for 1,464 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Desilus has been helped by a dangerous foursome at receiver. Senior Andrew Cote has played at an all-state level with 63 catches for 1,139 yards and 15 touchdowns. Classmate Nolan Molkenthin has 38 catches for 465 yards and a touchdown.

Senior Damien Bleau caught three of his seven touchdowns in last Wednesday’s 49-12 rout over New London. Sophomore Maxon Pierre-Louis is the largest of the group (6-foot-4, 175 pounds).

The Nighthawks (10-0), ranked third in The Day's Top 10 state coaches’ poll, have an experienced defense that’s allowed just 78 points. That group is led by senior middle linebacker Jared Dunn (70 tackles, 7.5 sacks).

“They’ve got a good group of guys in the secondary,” Bakoulis said. “Their linebackers are a tough group of kids. We were able to see some of them last year. They have good size, are physical and have good range.”

Newtown played at NFA last season and overwhelmed the Wildcats 51-14 (NFA scored all of its points in the first quarter).

Asked what he remembered about that game, Wildcats senior safety Xavier Marquez said, “Giving up. The defense, in particular, gave up. I know on the defensive side that everyone got heated. Everyone was brought down by it.

“It definitely adds fuel to the fire. We don’t want to end (the season) like that.”

n.griffen@theyday.com

CLASS LL QUARTERFINALS

No. 8 NFA at No. 1 NEWTOWN

Location: Blue and Gold Stadium, Newtown

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m.

Records: NFA 7-3; Newtown 10-0.

Last game: NFA beat New London, 49-12, on Nov. 27; Newtown beat Masuk, 17-2, on Nov. 27

Top players: NFA, 6-1 168-pound senior receiver Andrew Cote (63 catches, 1,139 yards, 15 TDs), 5-9 150 pound outside linebacker sr. linebacker Nathan Cole (89 tackles), 5-11 155-pound so. quarterback Jayden Desilus (100-of-178 passing, 1,464 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs), 5-10 165-pound running back Xavier Fonvil (82 carries, 413 yards, 3 TDs), 6-1 190-pound senior receiver Nolan Molkenthin (38 catches, 465 yards, 1 TD)

Newtown, 6-3, 225-pound sr. middle linebacker-fullback Jared Dunn (70 tackles, 7.5 sacks), 5-11 195 pound sr. quarterback Brandon Lombardo (63-of-101 passing, 896 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs), 6-1, 170-pound jr. Jack Street quarterback (54-of-98 passing, 732 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT), 5-9 160 pound sr. receiver-defensive back Riley Ward (35 catches, 423 yards, 6 TDs), 5-10 175 pound sr. receiver-defensive back Jack Zingaro (22 catches, 335 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs)

Noteworthy: Newtown has won three CIAC titles (1981 Class M-I, 1990 Class M, 1992 Class M). The Wildcats hope to win the program's first CIAC championship. ... NFA is just the sixth three-loss team to qualify for the LL playoffs since the CIAC expanded to eight teams per division in 2010. ... Newtown and the Wildcats have three common opponents via the Connecticut High School Football Alliance — Fairfield Prep, Shelton and West Haven. NFA lost to all three (Prep 33-28, Shelton 41-20, and West Haven, 27-13). The Nighthawks won all three (Prep 21-14, Shelton 34-24, and West Haven, 21-14). ... Newtown has used a group effort to score rather than relying on a few players. It uses two quarterbacks, and no one has rushed for over 452 yards (leading rusher Miles Ricks was injured in the Week 5 win at Shelton and hasn't played since).

— Ned Griffen

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