AVON >> Football is not a game that can be won by one person. There are 22 men on the field for every play. It takes precision, strength and teamwork to succeed.
But one player can certainly make a difference.
On Saturday, Avon’s All-State linebacker Jimmy Murphy was that player. Plenty of his teammates made big plays throughout the Pequot Conference battle against previous undefeated North Branford but Murphy made some truly memorable plays to help the Falcons to a thrilling 41-38 decision.
Twice, North Branford had leads of 11 points in the fourth quarter. But the Falcons wouldn’t quit. They scored two touchdowns in the final 26.6 seconds of regulation to stun the Thunderbirds and snatch away the victory.
“These kids don’t quit. They play for 48 minutes,” Avon High coach Jim Caouette said. “I’m so proud of them. It was a great team effort. I’m so proud of my coaches. They worked hard all week to help prepare these kids for this.”
A week earlier, the Falcons had come up short in a 21-18 loss to Valley Regional/Old Lyme. Avon scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to cut the lead to three but the Warriors recovered an onside kick with under a minute to go to secure the victory.
This week, there was no stopping Avon or Murphy.
The team was playing with a heavy heart. Earlier in the week, Michael Murphy, a former player with the Falcons in 1979 and 1980, passed away unexpectedly. He was Murphy’s uncle.
Murphy presented Michael’s son with the game ball after the victory. “I think there was an angel with the No. 25 (Michael Murphy’s number in high school) watching over us today,” Caouette said.
Angels watching from above and the fans in the stands saw a tremendous performance from Jimmy Murphy. Playing with a white towel hanging from his belt recognized his late uncle, Murphy was all over the field, especially in the second half.
He had a sack and a tackle for a loss. He made a tackle on North Branford’s Josh Melaccio with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter that probably prevented a touchdown that would have iced the contest. There was just open field ahead of Melaccio.
Murphy ran back two kickoffs for 32 yards, ran for 79 yards on nine carries and caught four passes for 50 yards – just in the second half.
“He ran the ball like a man possessed,” Caouette said. “We know he is our horse and we’ll keep riding him.”
Avon (3-2) led 14-0 after one quarter. But North Branford (4-1) surged, scoring 25 unanswered points to take a 25-14 lead.
Thunderbird QB Eddie Miller threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half to Shelby Acquah-Franklin (25 yards), Melaccio (8) and Austin Calamita (51). The long pass to Calamita with 3:24 left in the third period gave North Branford a 32-21 lead.
Avon cut the lead to five on a 37-yard touchdown run from Murphy early in the fourth quarter, 32-27. But North Branford seemed to have the game under control after a 35-yard touchdown run from Miller with 7:14 remaining and a 38-27 lead.
With 1:42 remaining, Avon forced North Branford to punt and the Falcons took over on the Thunderbird 40-yard line. Avon QB Noah Hahn, who completed 11-of-17 passes for 151 yards in the second half, completed a 21-yard pass over the middle to Stephen Griffin. Avon got another 15 yards on a North Branford penalty because Griffin had his helmet ripped off on the tackle.
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 touchdown 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. The ball sailed up into the air and Murphy leaped, grabbing the ball in mid-air. He landed on his feet and got it to the Avon 46-yard line before getting tackled.
A pass in the flat from Hahn to Murphy gained 28 yards to the Avon 26-yard line. The Falcons called timeout with 17.8 seconds remaining. On the next play, Hahn found Reichler running down the left sideline for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 11.4 seconds left, sparking a wild celebration among the Falcons and the fans that stayed until the end.
Hahn’s pass to Luke Meaney for the two-point conversion made the score, 41-38.
On opening day, Avon saw Canton beat them with a touchdown with eight seconds left. A week ago, the Falcons saw its fourth quarter rally fall short three points shy against Valley Regional/Old Lyme.
However, on this day, victory and the celebration was Avon’s.
NOTES: There were several key plays from many Falcon players. Dylan Marquis had some key catches for first downs in the first half. Reichler caught a 89-yard touchdown pass from Hahn, which is the second-longest TD reception in school history. … Reichler blocked an extra point attempt in the second quarter and Avon stopped three North Branford two-point conversion attempts. … It was Avon’s first win over North Branford since 1973.
Avon 41, North Branford 38
North Branford (4-1) 0 6 26 6 — 38
Avon (3-2) 14 0 7 20 — 41
A: Jimmy Murphy 6 run (John Burdick kick), 6:24
A: Justin Reichler 89 pass from Noah Hahn (Burdick kick), 0:24
NB: Austin Calamita 51 pass from Eddie Miller (kick blocked), 1:35
NB: Shelby Acquah-Franklin 25 pass from Miller (run fails), 11:37
NB: Calamita 35 interception return (run fails), 10:42
NB: Josh Melaccio 8 pass from Miller (Acquah-Franklin kick), 7:09
A: Stephen Griffin 54 run (Burdick kick), 5:58
NB: Calamita 67 pass from Miller (Acquah-Franklin kick), 3:24
A: Murphy 37 run (pass fails), 11:49
NB: Miller 35 run (pass fails), 7:14
A: Murphy 7 pass from Hahn (run fails), 26.6
A: Reichler 26 pass from Hahn (Luke Meaney pass from Hahn), 11.4