NORWICH >> Xavier forced seven turnovers, six of them interceptions, to snap a two-game losing skid with an 18-6 victory over Norwich Free Academy Saturday.
Owen Gonzalez and John Sadak had two interceptions apiece and Ben Costello recovered a blocked punt by teammate Anthony Caramanica on the second-to-last play of the first half.
Glenn Cunningham added two short touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to even Xavier’s record to 3-3 as it heads back to Palmer Field to face Shelton in a rematch of last year’s Class LL-Small title game, won by Xavier in overtime.
“You need a certain amount of guts and determination,” Xavier coach Sean Marinan said when asked what it took to win a game in which neither team was at full strength. “We needed to understand if we keep working we’re going to have success and that’s huge.
“We really didn’t do that last week (vs. Notre Dame) and I’m very happy to see that (today). So this a great step-factor and we’ll build upon it. It’ll be tough. We have Shelton coming in next week and that’ll be no picnic.”
This game featured 10 turnovers combined. Xavier third-string quarterback Will Levis, who came on early for starter Colin McCarthy, threw three picks. NFA quarterbacks Shea McManaway, who started, and Tyler Briggs, who came on in the second half, threw three interceptions apiece. NFA was playing without sterling junior quarterback Jawaun Johnson for the second consecutive game due to an unspecified illness.
“It was almost like you’re going into a JV game, to some extent,” Marinan said. “Because you have all this inexperience and you don’t know what to expect from the players. And that’s tough on the kids that are playing because there’s a lot of inconsistency. They’re were in the same boat as us.”
NFA managed to tie the game in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Peyton Whitaker late in the third quarter.
Shortly after Xavier failed to convert a fourth down, Gonzalez made his first pick of the game to set the Falcons up at the NFA 47. Levis hit Colin McCarthy for a first down inside the NFA 20 and, just a few plays later, Cunningham barreled into the end zone for a 12-6 Xavier lead.
On NFA’s ensuing possession, Gonzalez picked off Briggs to set up the final score of the game — another 1-yard run by Cunningham with 3:35 remaining.
“We had a tremendous effort. It’s been difficult overcoming the injuries and inexperience from the last three weeks,” said NFA coach Jamal Davis, who added that Johnson — the team’s best offensive threat — could return anywhere between next week or the week after.
“But I’ll tell you, our kids, if we get healthy, we have an opportunity to make a little run. We have some guys that are stepping up for the guys that are out right now. Overall, I’m pleased. Obviously we’d would have liked to get the win… but our kids are learning. They’re learning how to play the game and they’re getting after it.”
Sadak added Xavier’s final interception in the final two minutes of the game.
Caleb Parker had two interceptions for NFA. Niko Kvietkus had a fumble recovery for Xavier.
Xavier 18, Norwich Free Academy 6
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 17, 2015
Xavier 0 6 0 12 — 18
NFA 0 0 6 0 — 6
X–Ben Costello blocked punt recovery in end zone (kick failed)
NFA–Peyton Whitaker 1 run (kick failed)
X–Glenn Cunningham 1 run (kick failed)
X–Cunningham 1 run (pas failed)
Team records: Xavier 3-3, NFA 3-2