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NFA battles back from 30-14 deficit to edge Waterford 34-30

Norwich — There's an old line in sports, uttered by an aggravated coach, that goes, "we'll turn this thing around when the players have had enough."

And maybe — just maybe — the football kids of Norwich Free Academy reached that moment Saturday afternoon. A 30-14 deficit at halftime to Waterford had the Wildcats staring at the rest of their season as if it were coming straight from Stephen King.

"We talked about trusting each other more," receiver Jeremiah Capps said.

They could at least trust this: Throwing it to Capps is usually a good idea. His acrobatic catch in the end zone with 2:28 remaining capped a wild rally that left NFA with a 34-30 win before 2,000 howling fans.

The Wildcats (3-2) have won their games this season 21-20, 28-26 and 34-30, leaving little wonder why coach Jason Bakoulis is adding specks of gray to his beard.

"We talked all week about how you can make a mistake," Bakoulis said, "but how do you respond?"

The Wildcats responded by holding Waterford (1-4) without a first down for the first 14 minutes of the second half. They crept within two on Dangelo Aristilde's blocked punt that Mike-Dory Morisset scooped and ran for a touchdown with 10:24 remaining.

And then following what could have been a killer turnover — a fumble with 7:06 left — the defense again held and got the ball with 5:28 remaining.

Waterford celebrated another turnover when freshman C.J. Landry picked off his second pass of the game with four minutes left. But the Lancers were called for roughing the passer — and then unsportsmanlike conduct after the play ended — suddenly giving NFA with ball at the Waterford 13.

Waterford's defense held, creating a fourth-and-goal from the seven. Quarterback Jayden Desilus scrambled and hit Capps with the ultimate game winner.

"A perfectly thrown ball," Capps said. "I try to go up and get it and make those my specialty."

Such a comeback felt remote at halftime after the Lancers dropped 30 on NFA in a half. Quarterback Nate Hynes went 12-for-20 for 188 yards in the first half alone, throwing touchdown passes to Justin Saad (20 yards) and Jordan Elci (29 yards on fourth and four).

Saad also had a 68-yard run that led to Hynes' 1-yard touchdown run that broke a 14-14 tie at the time. Waterford went to the locker room after kicker Owen Lanuza made a 29-yard field goal with seconds left in the half.

"Our mindset was different in the second half," Waterford coach Zeth Nolda said. "We came out and thought the game was over. We have to learn how to finish. We need to expect to win these games. I think we're a little nervous right now in these situations. Finish it and take what's ours."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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