GREENWICH — Avon Old Farms School quarterback Tyler Phommachahn eluded pressure, scrambled to his left and lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone, while falling to the turf in overtime of Saturday’s Erickson League showdown against Brunswick School.
And with all eyes on him, Winged Beavers wide receiver Graham Walker did the rest, hauling in Phommachahn’s pass in the end zone, while being tightly covered.
Walker’s touchdown reception, followed by an Avon Old Farms defensive stand resulted in a thrilling 35-28 overtime win for the Winged Beavers over the Bruins in a game that could be labeled an instant classic.
The victory, which saw Avon Old Farms erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, moved Avon’s record to 6-0 overall and in league play and put it in prime position to finish first in the Erickson League and earn a NEPSAC Class A Bowl game. Brunswick, which drew a large crowd on its Homecoming Day, is 5-2 overall following the tough loss and 3-1 in Erickson League play.
“That’s how you want your Homecoming game to be,” Bruins coach Mike Hannigan said. “You want to play in a competitive game that goes right down-to-the-wire. Two great Class A football teams in the NEPSAC and no one wanted to lose.”
Bruins senior quarterback Nick Winegardner threw three touchdown passes, two of which were caught by senior wide receiver Bernard Zoungrana. Avon’s offense was sparked by senior running back Nehemiah Thompson, who helped his squad gain pivotal first downs throughout. The visitors faced a 28-14 deficit with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but didn’t panic and stuck with their running game.
“That’s what we’ve had success with all year,” Avon Old Farms coach Pierce Brennan said. “There were seven minutes on the clock, so we didn’t want to abandon it. Our guys did a great job, they battled. There were more negatives than positives, but those positives were bigger than the negatives. We have competitive kids who fight for each other.”
Avon received the ball first in overtime, which began at the Bruins’ 25-yard line. Phommachahn was sacked by Bruins linebacker Will Coen on first down for a 3-yard loss. Avon’s signal caller threw an incomplete pass on second down, before gaining nine yards with a pass to wideout Josh Tracey on third down. On fourth down from the Brunswick 19-yard line, a scrambling Phommachahn hung a pass in the corner of the end zone and the 6-foot-3 Walker came down with it, putting the Winged Beavers in front by a touchdown at 35-28.
“It was fourth down, emotions were high and we knew we had to make a play,” Walker said. “We audibled to verticle routes and I knew I had to make a play. It was a perfect ball and I was able to catch it and bring it in. I can’t believe we pulled it off.”
The Bruins received the ball after Avon scored in overtime, but couldn’t reach the end zone and the Winged Beavers kept their undefeated season going.
Brunswick was in prime position to earn the win and take over first place in the Erickson League. Winegardner’s 9-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Rocco DiChiara off a well-executed play-action pass, put the Bruins on top, 28-14 with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
However, Avon quickly made it a one-score game. Phommachahn’s 42-yard scoring strike to Tracey with 7:32 to go, followed by Jack Ryan’s extra point, made it 28-21.
“This was the most important game of our season and we knew we had to do everything we could to win,” Tracey said. “We had to stay focused. It was a good battle and kind of nerve-wracking, but it was fun.”
After pinning Brunswick back to its own 3-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, the Winged Beavers forced the Bruins to go three-and-out and proceeded to take over at the Brunswick 45, following a punt.
A 27-yard pass from Phommachahn to Walker set the visitors up on the Brunswick 15-yard line. Two players later, Thompson ran around the left side for a 15-yard scoring run with 3:33 left. The extra point was converted and the showdown was knotted at 28-28.
“We just tried to keep up with our fast tempo offense and tried to keep pushing and pushing,” Thompson said. “They put a lot of trust in me and I have to do my part and run hard.”
Thompson’s 9-yard run gave the Winged Beavers a 7-0 lead with 4:36 to go in the first quarter. Winegardner’s 27-yard touchdown pass to Zoungrana at the 11:01 mark of the second quarter evened the score at 7-7.
“It was a slant and up, the same route I scored on in the Salisbury game,” said Zoungrana, who had four receptions for 125 yards. “Nicky (Winegardner) and I have been throwing together since I can remember.”
The Bruins took their first lead at 14-7, courtesy of junior linebacker Colin Mulshine. He intercepted a Phommachahn and ran it back 12 yards for a touchdown at the 4:20 mark of the third quarter.
“That is a play we have been watching this week on film, we were prepared for it,” said Mulshine, who also recovered a fumble. “We saw the formation coming the whole way. I have a lot of respect for that Avon team, they wanted it just as bad as we did. They just made one more play than we did.”
With 3:08 to go in the third quarter, Winegardner connected with Zoungrana, who got behind the secondary, for a 52-yard pass play for a touchdown, giving the home team a 21-7 advantage. The Bruins’ running game was led by senior Jalen Madison.
“Nick had a whole bunch of completions and we ran it effectively,” Hannigan said. “Bernard had catch-after-catch and at one point, we had two sophomores on the offensive line, so we had I’m really proud of how those guys grew up and played.”
Said Winegardner, who passed for 258 yards: “I’m proud of every single player on the team, it was such a team effort and we gave it everything we had. On offense, when everyone works together, good things happen.”
Thompson added a 16-yard touchdown run for the victors.
“We just keep our composure at all times,” Phommachahn said. “We have a great running back and our offensive line did a great job of giving him holes to run through.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Thompson powered Avon’s offense and Wilson and Tracey made key receptions. Winegarnder had one of his best games of the season for the Bruins.
Brunswick senior defensive back Kevonne Wilder intercepted a pass and had 94 receiving yards for the Bruins, who were also sparked defensively by senior lineman Howard Powell, Ostrover and junior lineman George Hill. … Senior linebacker Drew Monin registered numerous tackles for Avon, as did senior lineman Arthur Long and junior lineman Brian Namnoum. … Sophomore defensive back Marco Scarano registered a sack in the win. … Avon compiled 357 yards of offense, while Brunswick had 301.
“It was the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” Walker said. “I’m a kid from Vermont, who came to a prep school in Connecticut. We pulled together as a team to show we were one of the best teams in the league.”
Said Bruins linebacker Clayton Ostrover: “When it’s a close game like that, it could have gone either way. Their quarterback tossed the ball up in the air and it went for a touchdown. For us, it just didn’t happen.”