NEWTOWN >> It had been a long, long time since Xavier last played a football game. The Falcons’ regular season ended three weeks ago, but it felt like a season. The team practiced and waited. Practiced and waited.
“I heard it was, like, 22 days off, I really didn’t keep track,” senior quarterback Mike Scherer said. “Practices were getting a little long.”
The countless days off, then the long road trip to Newtown and playing in miserable conditions in the state semifinal game were all worth it. After a year layoff, Xavier is back to play for a state championship.
And, as it has throughout this season, the defense and kicking game was to thank.
Xavier’s defense held Newtown to six yards in the first half and then scoreless in a tight fourth quarter in a 13-7 Class LL-Small semifinal game at Blue and Gold Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“They played great,” Xavier coach Sean Marinan said, referring to his defense. “(Defensive coordinator) Andy Guyon came up with a great scheme and all our coaches did a great job watching film and knowing who their key people are.
“Our kids got it, absorbed it and, for the most part, I think they did a good job carrying it out.”
A year after missing the playoffs, Xavier (8-3) advances to its fourth state championship game in four years. The Falcons face No. 2-seed and SCC rival Shelton in the Class LL-Small championship next weekend at a time to be determined.
“The win, it’s just huge to us,” said senior Cole Thornburn, whose recovery of a muffed punt return set up Xavier’s only touchdown of the game and gave the Falcons a 10-0 lead at halftime. “Going to state is just a huge deal. It means a lot to us. We’re all really just so excited.”
Shelton defeated Xavier in the regular season 28-20. “I’m so excited,” Scherer said. “We made — what? — four or five turnovers in that game and only lost by one (touchdown).”
For the third-straight year Newtown saw an unbeaten season end in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks finished 12-1.
“It hurts every year and I’m getting too used to it, unfortunately,” Newtown coach Steve George said. “You work your ass off to get this far and you come up six points short. It’s tough.”
As good as Xavier’s defense was, Newtown’s was just as outstanding. Spurred by linebackers Ben Mason and Nick Samuelson and lineman Jake Lambert, Newtown forced a pair of turnovers, made big stops and held Xavier’s regular offense to just a pair of field goals by Andrew Verre.
But, up 3-0, Xavier got the break it needed late in the first half when Newtown’s Troy Frangione tried to field a deep punt over his shoulder. The ball bounced away and Thornburn recovered at the Newtown 8. Scherer punched in from the 4 for a 10-0 Xavier lead at halftime.
“It was a defensive battle and everybody knew that going in,” George said. “The turnover hurt us and they got 7 on that. We don’t usually make mistakes like that. Unfortunately, that was the difference in the game.”
Despite their brutal first half, Newtown’s offense found new life in the third quarter. Jaret Devellis fought his way to midfield with a pair of big first-down runs. Jake Burden uncorked a 46-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Carpenter to make it 10-7.
Xavier held from there. It recovered an ensuing onside kick and, later, snuffed out an option pass attempt by Jared Pearson.
Finally, Glenn Cunningham busted loose for a 38-yard run to set up Verre’s second field goal to make it a six-point game in the fourth quarter.
Chidi Broderick had a hand in stopping both of Newtown’s final drives. The big lineman batted away a Burden pass on the first drive.
On the first play of Newtown’s last drive, he sacked Burden for an 8-yard loss. Burden followed with three straight incompletions and Xavier took over at the Newtown 16 and ran out the clock.
“It was just a matter of getting our kids back in the right spots when they weren’t in the right spots,” Marinan said. “(Newtown’s) two-platoon and we’re not. We had some adjustments to make and they’re high school kids. Sometimes you have to get on them to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Xavier’s defense held all-state receiver Julian Dunn to just a pair of catches for 18 yards. Newtown had 140 total yards (61 passing, 79 rushing). Xavier’s John Sullivan had an interception. Colin Morris was also defensive force up front.
“Defense has been doing it for us all year,” Thornburn said. “I think we have — in my opinion — the best defense in the state. We’ve had a great defensive game every game we’ve played.”
As for the impending rematch with Shelton? “I think we’re ready,” Thornburn said.
Xavier 13, Newtown 7
XAVIER 3 7 0 3 — 13
NEWTOWN 0 0 7 0 — 7
X–Andrew Verre 32 field goal
X–Mike Scherer 4 run (Verre kick)
N–Ethan Carpenter 46 pass from Jacob Burden (Jaret Devellis kick)
X–Verre 28 field goal
Team records: Xavier 8-3, Newtown 12-1