By Gerry deSimas Jr.
CANTON >> There are at least 10 more games left in the season for the Canton High football team. There could be more exciting and significant victories ahead for the Warriors.
But no one is going to forget what happened in Avon on opening day.
It’s destined to be one of those games you’ll be talking about for years when the speed and strength displayed on the field on that sunny September afternoon becomes a distant memory.
Nine times dating back to 1960, Canton had challenged Avon on the football gridiron. And nine times, they had fallen. Five times, they had been shutout. Canton had never led once in those nine games with the Falcons.
Coming off a perfect 10-0 regular season and an appearance in the Class L playoffs, Avon could see another opening day victory on the horizon. They led by three with under three minutes left to play.
But Canton linebacker Dan Delos forced a turnover with 2:39 remaining. The Warriors marched 69 yards in nine plays, scoring on the final play when Terrance Brophy scored from the six-yard line as time expired to lift Canton to a wild 16-13 victory.
“If there was one game I wanted to win in my high school career (it was this one),” said Canton quarterback Eric Scott, the senior who was facing Avon for the third time. He watched his older brother, Nate, lose to Avon when he played for the Warriors.
“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,” Scott said.
MORE CANTON AND AVON SPORTS
Second-year Canton coach Paul Phillippon won’t let his team settle for one big win this season. But the Warriors had a few days to savor this epic victory – its first season opening victory since 1958.
“Our coach told us that Avon has been shoving it in our face for all of these years,” Delos said. “Now, we shoved it right back.”
Avon has been the big dog for the past few seasons. They’ve won the Pequot Uncas Division title in five of the past six years. They’ve gone 10-0 in the regular season twice and qualified for the Class L tournament three times in that span.
Even though the Falcons lost several seniors including state player of the year Colin Moore and long-time head coach Brett Quinion, the Falcons returned an All-State linebacker with Jimmy Murphy and had an energetic new head coach Jim Caouette.
The Falcons led 7-0 at halftime on a four-yard touchdown run from Murphy (7-70 rushing).
Canton cut the lead to 7-3 on the first drive of the second half, set up by a 55-yard kickoff return from Sebastian Gumbs. The Warriors drove to the Avon seven-yard line before sophomore Eddie Melton hit a 20-yard field goal.
The Warriors took their first lead on its next series. Gumbs intercepted Hahn and returned the pass 45 yards to the Avon 25-yard line. Hahn overthrew his receiver. On fourth down and inches from the 15, Delos broke through the line and scampered into the end zone for a 10-7 advantage.
Delos finished with a game-high and career-high 101 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
Avon responded immediately with a quick four-play, 65-yard drive sparked by a 45-yard run from Murphy. Hahn scored from the one with 1:41 left in the third quarter. But Gumbs blocked the extra point to leave the lead at three, 13-10.
“The kids fought hard and it was a great high school football game,” Caouette said. “We had to protect the football and play great defense. I thought we did play great defense but we didn’t protect the football. When you don’t protect the football, you lose games.”
The Warriors forced three Avon turnovers and two led to nine Canton points.
“We are blessed with a bunch of kids who don’t quit,” Phillippon said. “We had every reason to just say Avon is a great team and let it go. But they wouldn’t.”
Leading by three, 13-10, Avon put a stranglehold on the Canton offense, limiting the Warriors to minus 12 yards on its first two drives of the fourth quarter. Avon’s Stephen Griffin had a seven-yard sack of Scott and Justin Reichler and Nick Zacchio combined to stop Scott in the backfield for a 10-yard loss.
Avon took over with 4:27 left but couldn’t get a first down. On third down, Luke Meaney caught a eight yard pass from Hahn but Delos stripped the ball from him on the tackle. Gumbs recovered the fumble with 2:39 left on the Canton 31-yard line.
Canton began marching down the field behind runs from Brophy and Delos as the time clicked away. The Warriors were calm and didn’t rush to the line. Scott hit Keith Wilson with a nine-yard pass that gave Canton a first down on the Avon 27-yard line with 39 seconds remaining.
Scott completed just two of his first eight passes. But on the game-winning drive, he was 2-for-2 for 20 yards.
After a 10-yard run from Cam Daley, one of the officials thought he heard an Avon player call timeout and stopped the clock with 33 seconds left. It gave Canton enough time to get to the line and Scott completed a 11-yard pass to Gumbs to the Avon six.
Canton called timeout. The officials paused when a clap of thunder was heard rolling through the valley. But they decided to let the game continue. And Brophy scored around the right side to give Canton its biggest victory since the resurrection of the varsity program in 2006.
“This was significant because it was Avon,” Delos said. “This is the team that always beat Canton, the underdogs. Now, we’re on top and our goal is to keep it that way as long as we can.”
Said Gumbs, who had 130 yards in punt return yardage, “This is everything. Everyone has wanted this for years. This is what we lifted for and worked for in the offseason.”
Canton 16, Avon 13
Canton (1-0) 0 0 10 6 – 16
Avon (0-1) 0 7 6 0 — 13
A: Jimmy Murphy 4 run (John Burdick kick), 11:53
C: Eddie Melton 20 FG, 7:09
C: Dan Delos 15 run (Melton kick), 3:30
A: Noah Hahn 1 run (kick blocked), 1:41
C: Terrence Brophy 6 run, 0:00
RUSHING: Avon – Jimmy Murphy 7-70, Ted Allmendinger 4-19, Steven Griffin 8-31, Noah Hahn 4-20; Canton – Terrence Brophy 10-39, Dan Delos 17-101, Cam Daley 4-20, Sebastian Gumbs 3-11, Eric Scott 4-minus 22
PASSING: Avon – Noah Hahn 8-11-1, 59; Canton – Eric Scott 4-10-1, 41
RECEIVING: Avon – Justin Reichler 1-4, Luke Meaney 4-24, Dylan Marquis 2-15, Allmendinger 1-16; Canton – Jake Wood 1-15, Terrence Brophy 1-6, Keith Wilson 1-9, Sebastian Gumbs 1-11
RETURNS: Gumbs (C) 3-130 (punts), Marquis (A) 3-37 (punts), 2-45 (kickoffs)
INTERCEPTIONS: Gumbs (C) 1-45, Avik Vimal (A) 1-0
FUMBLE RECOVERY: Gumbs (C) 2, Matt Bangs (C), Murphy (A)