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    Wednesday, February 28, 2024

    Winless no longer: NFA defeats Ledyard 19-14 in football

    Ledyard – The concept of “winless Norwich Free Academy” sounds bizarre, given the normal rhythms of high school football in this corner of the world.

    But this was the reality Thursday night at Bill Mignault Field: winless NFA and its brutal schedule to date vs. unbeaten Ledyard and its less brutal schedule to date.

    “We are battle tested,” said a sweaty and joyous NFA coach Erik Larka, “and battle tested enough to play a team like Ledyard.”

    And now the Wildcats are winless no longer, managing a 19-14 win that wobbled and jiggled and times, but resulted in a happy bunch of kids.

    “Obviously, we had high expectations and things hadn’t been going our way before tonight,” quarterback Gage Hinkley said, “but this shows we’re going 5-0 the rest of the way and finishing 5-5.”

    About the concept of finishing: NFA almost didn’t. The Wildcats had a 19-7 lead with six minutes remaining and the ball. But a fumble led to Ledyard quarterback Jackson Poulton’s touchdown run making it 19-14.

    NFA, trying to bleed the clock, was hit with holding and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, leaving it second and 25 with 3:22 left. But on fourth and four, the Wildcats drew Ledyard offside to end it.

    Ledyard (5-1) nearly snapped a scoreless tie midway through the third period, but couldn’t convert a second and goal situation at the one. Stout defense and two Ledyard penalties led to a goal line stand.

    “I’m thinking ‘if we stop them, we win and if they score, they win,’” Larka said. “It deflated them to say the least.”

    Jonathan Mercado’s touchdown run gave NFA a 7-0 lead. It lasted one play. Ledyard’s James Green, who ran for 221 yards, got 67 of them for a game-tying touchdown.

    “The line came right over to me and said ‘Coach, let’s get back to ‘monster,’” Larka said, alluding to what NFA calls the double wing.

    The Wildcats went back to “monster” and scored the go-ahead touchdown on Hinkley’s 1-yard run. Mercado, who had 149 yards rushing, made it 19-7 on a 29-yard run after Ledyard fumbled.

    “Our O-Line was just bigger and stronger,” said Hinkley, who ran for 81 yards.

    Larka: “This has been exponentially harder than I thought for sure. But this win exorcizes a lot of demons. This is what we need to start some momentum.”


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