Gerry deSimas Jr: This Farmington Valley football season was unforgettable

The CIAC football playoffs are underway to determine state champions in four classes. Farmington was the only Farmington Valley school to earn a bid to the playoffs in Class L. Still, it was a season full of thrilling football contests this fall for fans throughout the area.

Here are 10 games that area fans won’t soon forget:

Canton 16, Avon 13: The Falcons were on their way to another win over Canton, which had yet to beat Avon in football, dating back to 1960. Leading by three points, 13-10, Avon limited Canton to minus 12 yards on its first two drives of the fourth quarter.

Avon took over with 4:27 remaining but couldn’t get the first down to run out the clock. On third down and nine, Avon’s Luke Meaney caught an eight-yard pass from quarterback Noah Hahn but Canton’s Dan Delos stripped him of the ball on the tackle and Sebastian Gumbs recovered the fumble with 2:39 left on Canton’s 31-yard line.

As the seconds ticked off the clock, Canton patiently marched 69 yards in nine plays. Quarterback Eric Scott, who had completed just two of his first eight passes in the game, was 2-for-2 on the game-winning drive for 20 yards. Scott completed an eight-yard pass to Sebastian Gumbs, who scooted out of bounds at the six with eight seconds left in the game.

Scott handed off to Terrence Brophy, who scampered around to his right and beat Avon’s Dylan Marquis to the end zone. Brophy dove into the end zone, touching the pylon as he flew threw the air to spark a wild celebration among the Canton players and fans. There was no time left on the clock.

“If there was one game I wanted to win in my high school career (it was this one),” said Scott. “I told the team I didn’t care if we win the rest of our games this year. I wanted to win this game right here. This means everything.”

Canton beat Avon for the first time ever in football. The Warriors forced three turnovers and twice came from behind to take the lead. It was one of the great victories in Canton football history.

Avon 41, North Branford 38: Visiting North Branford had the game in their command – or so they thought. After Avon had taken a 14-point lead after one quarter, the Thunderbirds scored 25 consecutive points. At one point, they scored touchdowns on four straight possessions. However, Avon scored two TDs in the final 26.6 seconds for a stunning and emotional victory.

The Falcons played the game with heavy hearts. The uncle of All-State linebacker Jimmy Murphy died unexpectedly earlier that week. Michael Murphy played football at Avon in 1979 and 1980, earning All-Northwest Conference honors.

Trailing by nine, 38-27, Avon took over with 1:42 remaining in the game. QB Noah Hahn completed a 21-yard pass to Stephen Griffin and the Falcons picked up another 15 yards on a penalty. A 17-yard completion from Hahn to Justin Reichler put the ball on the North Branford 7 with 1:12 remaining. Two plays later, Hahn completed a 7-yard pass to Murphy with 26.6 seconds later. An attempted two-point conversion run failed and North Branford led, 38-33.

On the kickoff, Avon kicker John Burdick belted the ball off a North Branford defender. Murphy leaped, grabbing the ball in mid-air. He landed and got it to the Avon 46-yard line before getting tackled.

A pass in the flat from Hahn to Murphy gained 28 yards. On the next play, Hahn found Reichler running down the left sideline for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 11.4 seconds left. Hahn’s pass to Luke Meaney for the two-point conversion made the score, 41-38.

There were many key plays. Reichler blocked an extra point and Avon stopped three attempted two-point conversion runs. Murphy scored 3 TDs in the game. He made a tackle on North Branford’s Josh Melaccio late in the fourth quarter that might have prevented a touchdown that would have iced the contest. There was just open field ahead of Melaccio.

Gilbert/Northwestern 34, Avon 33: Avon nearly erased a 22-point deficit but the host Yellowjackets intercepted an attempted two-point conversion with no time left on the clock to earn the victory. The Falcons scored the last 21 points of the game and scored a touchdown with no time left on the clock on a one-yard run from quarterback Noah Hahn. The touchdown cut the Yellowjacket lead to one point.

Avon coach Jim Caouette didn’t hesitate. Instead of trying to kick an extra point and send the game into overtime, the Falcons went for the two-point conversion and the win. He didn’t like his team’s chances of stopping the speedy Tony Ortiz in OT where each team gets the ball at the 10-yard line for four downs. On the two-point conversion play, Dayton stepped in front of Jimmy Murphy and intercepted the pass from Hahn in the end zone to seal the victory.

Ortiz, Gilbert’s star running back, ran for a game-high 160 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. But it was Yellowjacket QB John Lippincott and receiver/defensive back Seth Dayton with some huge plays to secure the win.

Gilbert/Northwestern led 34-12 with 9:19 remaining in the game but Avon scored three touchdowns quickly. Hahn, who completed 13-of-21 passes for a career-high four TDs and 215 yards, threw a 30-yard TD pass to Dylan Marquis. On its next drive, Murphy scored on a 70-yard pass from Hahn with 4:45 left to cut the lead to seven, 34-27. It was a short pass and at one point, four Gilbert defenders surrounded Murphy but he wouldn’t go down.

Avon got the ball back on its own 46 with 2:49 left. Hahn scored on a one-yard run, diving and hitting the pylon in the end zone with no time left on the clock to pull within one point, 34-33.

Granby 21, Canton 19: Playing in the cold, wind, rain and some stinging sleet, the Bears erased a 13-point deficit to clinch the first winning season in school history and capture the ceremonial red Old Milk Jug. Sophomore RB Dominic Pagano ran for a game-high 143 yards and scored three touchdowns on Thanksgiving Eve for Granby (6-5). He had two big runs on fourth down as Granby scored with no time left on the clock at the end of the second quarter to cut the Warrior lead to six points, 13-7.

“How do you overcome?” Granby coach Rich Gadoury said. “They didn’t get down on themselves. They believed.”

Canton didn’t go away quietly. Trailing by two, they had a first down on the Granby 27-yard line with 1:12 remaining. But the drive imploded. A fumble, two dropped passes and an overthrown pass ended the series, the threat to score and the game.

Granby 17, Lewis Mills 14: Senior Matthew Holmes outleaped a Lewis Mills receiver with 1:54 remaining in the game for an interception that stopped a potential game-winning scoring drive. Then, with 3.6 seconds remaining, Holmes hit a 36-yard field goal to give the Bears a thrilling victory.

The field goal capped off a 94-yard march that began on the Granby six-yard line. Granby quarterback Curtis Field, who had a tough day throwing the ball, completed 3-of-5 passes on the drive for 28 yards. He had completed just six of his previous 15 passes with one interception before the game-winning drive.

Field had a crucial 12-yard run to the Lewis Mills 19-yard line with 24 seconds remaining to put the Bears into field goal range. On the play, Field got a key block from his brother, Connor.
Originally, Holmes lined up for a 41-yard field goal attempt but Mills was penalized five yards for having 12 men on the field. Holmes’ kick from 36 yards away just cleared the crossbar.

Canton 28, Coventry/Windham Tech/Bolton 27: For the second straight year, the game came down to the final play. A year ago, the Warriors stopped an attempted two-point conversion run for a two-point victory. This time, Coventry’s Vincent Marciano scored on a five-yard run with no time left on the clock. But a bad snap ruined Coventry’s attempted extra point try and Canton escaped with the win.

Canton rallied for the win. Trailing by seven early in the fourth quarter, Dan Delos scored on a 44-yard run and Eddie Melton’s extra point tied the game at 21-21. With about a minute Canton surprised the Patriots. Wide receiver Sebastian Gumbs took a lateral from Delos and completed a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle to tight end Jake Wood.

Farmington 26, Simsbury 14: It took two days for the Indians to beat Simsbury for the first time since 1965 in the season opener for both teams. The game was suspended with 1:53 left in the third quarter on due to heavy rain and lightning. Simsbury was leading by one, 14-13 after a 10-yard run from Brad Helmkamp.

The two teams played the final 13:53 of the game on a sunny Friday afternoon and the Farmington defense stood tall. In the fourth quarter, Farmington allowed Simsbury just one first down, made a huge stop on fourth-and-one on the Indian 36-yard-line and had Ivan Guadalupe run back an interception 32 yards for a touchdown with 1:16 remaining to clinch the victory.

Simsbury 23, East Hartford 20: Kyle Dougherty hit a 33-yard field goal with 49.5 seconds remaining as Simsbury erased a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter for its first win of the season. Simsbury trailed 20-7 after three quarters but cut the lead to seven when QB James Helmsen scored on a six-yard run with 10:39 left in the game. A bad snap on the extra point left Simsbury down by six points, 20-13.

On its next possession, Brad Helmkamp scored a nine-yard touchdown and Dougherty hit the extra point with 3:40 remaining to tie the game at 20-20. Helmkamp ran for a game-high 173 yards on 23 carries.

Even after Dougherty’s field goal, East Hartford had a chance to win. After a Hornet receiver caught a deflected pass, the Hornets had the ball on the Simsbury 10 with 14.9 seconds remaining. An incomplete pass and a run for no gain left East Hartford with a 28-yard field goal attempt. William McIntosh’s field goal attempt was wide to the right and Simsbury prevailed.

New Britain 14, Simsbury 7, OT: Simsbury forced four New Britain turnovers but couldn’t convert in an overtime loss at home. After a New Britain fumble at its own four, Brad Helmkamp scored from the one to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:29 let in regulation. In OT, New Britain got the ball first and scored on a six-yard run from Kyshawn Gunn and an extra point from Eliva Silva. On its second play of OT, the Hurricane sacked QB James Hermsen for an 11-yard loss. After an incomplete pass on third down, Hermsen’s fourth down pass in the end zone was intercepted.

Canton 42, Lewis Mills 16: It was an emotional event as the Warriors hosted their first-ever night game on its new multi-purpose artificial turf field that had been approved by town voters a little over a year earlier.

This was one of those nights that football fans in Canton had dreamed about for years. Not only was Canton High taking the field under the lights on a Friday night, but the Warriors were doing it at home in front of their own fans.

Canton’s Terrance Brophy ran for two touchdowns and a game-high 101 yards on 10 carries. QB Eric Scott, who scored his first touchdown of the season, completed 4-of-5 passes for 99 yards and two touchdown passes.

A.J. Zukowski, president of Friends of Canton Football, said, “It was almost surreal it was so exciting. So many people stepped up to make this happen.” The place was buzzing. Hundreds stood along the fence surrounding the field to watch the game while dozens of fans from Lewis Mills went to the far side of the facility to watch the game.

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