NEWINGTON >> He’s been the head football coach at Newington for three seasons now. And during that time Eric Hennessy was looking for his program’s signature win.
The Indians got it on Friday night.
Junior Corey Pertillar returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, junior quarterback Roberto Sanchez rushed for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter, and the Indians defense recovered two key fumbles to upset eighth-ranked Middletown, 27-24, at Alumni Varsity Field.
“Middletown’s a great team and to line up and beat the No. 8 team the state tonight and to kind of manhandle them in the second half…I’m so proud of my kids,” Hennessy said. “Hopefully, this starts something special for us.”
The Blue Dragons (6-1) had two second half fumbles, including one at the Newington 28-yard line with just 3:08 left to play. And a multitude of penalties proved costly. Middletown also had a field goal attempt blocked in the second quarter.
“It’s a sickening feeling,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said. “Newington played well. All the credit to them. We turned the ball over and they got a special teams touchdown. We had too many penalties again and they bit us this time.”
Middletown took an early 14-0 lead on a pair of rushing touchdowns from senior quarterback Tyshaun James.
Newington got a 5-yard touchdown run from junior Aveontae Frazier to cut it 14-7 with 2:38 left in the first half.
It appeared Middletown was going into the half with a 17-7 lead after junior Mike Aresco booted a 34-yard field goal with 33 seconds left. But Pertillar caught the ensuing kick-off at the 3-yard line, wove to the sideline and raced 97 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-14.
“We saw that on film,” Hennessy said. “They’re used to that kid (Aresco) kicking the ball into the end zone every game. We talked all week about it. We said if he doesn’t kick it into the end zone we’re going to score on them. If that was their Achilles heel, that was it.”
The Indians then took the lead, 21-17, on the first play of the fourth quarter when Sanchez scored from 10 yards out.
Middletown quickly answered with James carrying the ball five times for 64 yards. James’ three-yard score gave the Blue Dragons a 24-21 advantage with 10:05 left in the fourth quarter.
“Our kids did a great job there,” Morello said. “We showed some urgency.”
Middletown’s defense forced a punt on Newington’s next possession but the Blue Dragons gave the ball back on a fumble.
Five plays later, Sanchez scored the game-winning touchdown on a 17-yard dash, giving the Indians a 27-24 lead with 6:09 remaining.
James engineered another drive on the ground and it looked like the Blue Dragons were getting into field goal range for Aresco, who kicked a school record 52-yard field a week ago.
But Newington recovered a fumble and the Indians sealed things on a third down completion from Sanchez to Cooper Johnson, and a 39-yard run from Sanchez with just under two minutes left.
Frazier finished with 70 yards on 17 carries, while Sanchez was 5 of 11 passing for 78 yards.
“It was a close game at halftime and our kids said this is our game,” Hennessy said. “They motivated themselves in the locker room. We made some adjustments. We kept it simple in the second half and played some hard nose football and just moved the ball.”
James finished with 167 yards rushing on 28 carries with three touchdowns. He also completed 8 of 17 passes for 112 yards. Junior receiver DeAaron Lawrence caught six passes for 70 yards.
“We made a lot of mistakes tonight,” Morello said. “We’ve got to regroup and get ready because it’s not going to get any easier with EO Smith (next week).”
Newington 27, Middletown 24
At Alumni Varsity Field, Newington High School
Middletown 14-3-0-7 24
Newington 0-14-0-13 27
M-Tyshaun James 24 run (Mike Aresco kick)
M-Tyshaun James 3 run (Mike Aresco kick)
N-Aveontae Frazier 5 run (Jay LaRosa kick)
M-Mike Aresco 36 yard field goal
N-Corey Pertillar 97 kick-off return (Jay LaRosa kick)
N-Roberto Sanchez 10 run (Jay LaRosa kick)
M-Tyshaun James 3 run (Mike Aresco kick)
N-Roberto Sanchez 17 run (kick blocked)
Records: Middletown 6-1 ; Newington 3-4