NEW HAVEN >> Trailing New Fairfield by eight points at halftime in its CIAC Class M quarterfinal game, passionate, motivational speeches during the intermission by Hillhouse football coach Reggie Lytle and his assistant coaches stressed that football is all about having heart and that players had to believe in themselves.
The emotional speeches hit home with all the Hillhouse players, in particular running back Matt Brehon, as the Academics scored 21 unanswered points in the second half.
Brehon ran for 204 yards and scored three second-half touchdowns, including a 92-yard touchdown that gave the Academics their first lead. No. 2 Hillhouse would go on to complete its emotional comeback with a 27-14 win over No. 7 New Fairfield at Bowen Field Tuesday night.
“Just before I scored that 92-yard touchdown, I was saying to myself ‘my team needs me,’” Brehon said. “I needed to make something happen for my entire team, I needed to make something happen for our offensive line and for all the players who worked so hard all game, and I needed to make something happen for all the people in the stands who believe in me.
“On the 92-yard touchdown, the offensive line opened up such a wide open hole all I could see was wide open space and the end zone in front of me. I just ran as hard as I could until my feet couldn’t go any more. It was all about believing in ourselves and making all the hard work we did in the summer pay off.”
Hillhouse (10-1), making its first appearance in the Class M playoffs since it won the M title in 2012, advances to the semifinals. The Academics will play host to Spencer Lockwood and No. 3 Killingly on Monday at Bowen Field at 6:30 p.m. Lockwood ran for 303 yards and Killingly defeated Bunnell 27-7 in another quarterfinal game.
“The halftime speeches by me and all our coaches, that was the turning point in this game,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said. “The players bought into what we were saying. They all stood up and they all told the coaches they had a lot of heart.
“This was a big win for everyone. Matt (Brehon) was due for a big game, he’s one of the best running backs in the state. At halftime, the coaches told the players we needed a big play. The offensive line stepped up big time and all our players fought hard for this win.”
New Fairfield (8-3) set the tone for the first half, scoring on its second possession. Anthony Pearl scored on a 2-yard run up the middle to cap an 11-play drive to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead with 2:42 to go in the first quarter. William Enright kicked the extra point.
The Rebels made it 14-0 when Zach Buffington scored on a 4-yard run and Enright added the PAT with 3:17 to go. The drive was set up by a Hillhouse fumble that gave the Rebels the ball on the Hillhouse 21.
The running game kicked in for the Academics late in the second quarter. Hillhouse quarterback Quintus Reid scored on a sweep right for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:16 to go in the half. The score was set up by a 54-yard run by Reid. The 2-point conversion failed and the Rebels led 14-6 at halftime.
On the Academics’ second possession of the third quarter, Brehon got Hillhouse closer with a 5-yard touchdown run to cut the Rebels’ lead to 14-12 with 6:38 to go. Reid’s 2-point rush failed.
Hillhouse would go on to take a 20-14 lead with 4:24 to go in the fourth quarter. Brehon’s 92-yard run sent the Hillhouse fans to their feet and Reid completed a 2-point conversion pass to Chase Kinzly for the six-point lead.
On New Fairfield’s next drive, Reid intercepted Matt Palardy, giving Hillhouse the ball on the Rebels 22. Three plays later, Brehon’s 15-yard touchdown run and Byron Breland’s kick made it 27-14.
“This win feels great right now, but it really means nothing,” Brehon said. “We have another game to think about and it’s all about believing in ourselves. Right now, we’re carrying the entire city of New Haven on our backs. We’re doing this for our team and for our fans in the stands, but we are really playing for all of New Haven.”
Buffington led the Rebels with 98 yards on 24 carries.