CHESHIRE >> Cheshire football coach Don Drust knows how hard it is to win in the Southern Connecticut Conference. Each week the games get bigger and bigger. And then, of course, there are the games that seem larger than life, ones that fall into the memorable category.
Rams junior Ethan Bronson kicked a 39-yard field goal with just five seconds left to lift Cheshire to a dramatic 26-24 victory over Xavier before a huge crowd Friday night at Alumni Field. Bronson’s game-winning kick capped a wild finish. And gave the Rams playoff hopes a big boost.
“That was a heck’uva high school football game,” Drust said. “I’m just so proud of my kids. It came down to everything we talk about, believing in each other and being a family. Listen, Xavier’s a great football team. And at the end of the day, we made a play.”
Cheshire led 23-14 going into the fourth quarter. But Xavier rallied behind the play of seniors Glenn Cunningham, Joe Galatie, Nikolus Kvietkus, and junior quarterback Will Levis.
Falcons sophomore Sam Norris made a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to close the gap to 23-17.
It looked like Cheshire (4-1) was going to hold on, especially after Bronson blasted a 57-yard punt, giving Xavier the ball at its own 35-yard line with a little over two minutes left.
Levis moved the ball upfield with a couple of passes to senior tight-end Parker Rowley. On third-and-7 from midfield, Levis hit Galatie with a slant pass and Galatie made a quick cut inside, racing all the way to the end zone for a 50-yard scoring play. Norris’ extra point kick gave Xavier a 24-23 lead with just 1:26 remaining.
It was Xavier’s turn now to come up with a big defensive stop and it looked like the Falcons were going to get it when Kvietkus sacked junior quarterback Will Graikoski.
But Graikoski found Mike Millea with a 10-yard pass. On fourth-and-9, Graikoski lofted a bomb to junior Eric Angelone, who hauled in the pass all the way to the Xavier 22-yard line with just 10 seconds left.
After Graikoski spiked the ball to stop the clock, Bronson stepped up and delivered the memorable kick.
“I just went out there and went through the process, going through what I need to do to make the team successful” said Bronson. “Everyone was calm. In practice we kick 35 yarders all the time. We’re a big family. We knew that we could do it and we believed in each other.”
It was Bronson’s fifth field goal of the season.
“Ethan’s unbelievable,” Drust said. “We had no doubt when we sent him out there.”
Cunningham gave the Falcons an early 14-0 lead with a 74 yard touchdown run on the game’s second play and a 23-yard touchdown catch from Levis late in the first quarter. Cunningham finished with 221 yards rushing on 31 carries.
Cheshire, however, responded with 23 straight points. Graikoski scored on a 1-yard sneak and then after the Rams recovered a fumble, he threw a 9-yard TD pass to Mike Millea to pull the Rams within 14-13.
Elijah Allston’s two-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter gave Cheshire a 20-14 halftime lead.
“This is a huge win going into the bye,” Drust said. “There’s no hiding what this conference is, especially in Division I. It’s every week. I don’t take any of them for granted. They’re all big.”
Xavier fell to 2-3.
“That’s life in the SCC,” said Xavier assistant coach Raj Jaswal, who was coaching in place of Falcons head coach Sean Marinan (personal reasons). “I’m just proud of the way our kids came back and battled. That’s a great Cheshire team. You have to play to the final second in this league. It was a great football game.”
Editor’s Note: An original version of this story incorrectly reported Bronson’s season field goal total. He has made five field goals this season.
Cheshire 26, Xavier 24
(at Alumni Field, Cheshire High School)
Xavier 14 0 0 10 — 24
Cheshire 0 20 3 3 — 26
X—Glenn Cunningham 74 run (Sam Norris kick)
X—Glenn Cunningham 23 pass from Will Levis (Norris kick)
C—Will Graikoski 1 run (Ethan Bronson kick)
C—Mike Millea 9 pass from Graikoski (kick failed)
C—Elijah Allston 2 run (Bronson kick)
C—Bronson 21 FG
X—Norris 30 FG
X—Joe Galatie 50 pass from Levis (Norris kick)
C—Bronson 39 FG
Team records: Cheshire 4-1; Xavier 2-3