NEWTOWN — If little else, the Newtown football team considers itself a distraction — a distraction from the lingering darkness that has enveloped the community since December 14.
Newtown supposed to be good, real good. And for first home game since the state quarterfinals the week before the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Nighthawks wanted to do something special for their family, their friends and their throngs of supporters, especially the scores of kids who look up to them.
The team decorated itself in the green and white colors of Sandy Hook. They added “26” to the Hawk logos on their helmets, signifying the lives lost in the tragic school shooting. The backs of their jerseys read “Stay Strong.”
Everything was perfect. Everything, except for the game.
Newtown, both the team and the throng of green-clad fans who packed Blue and Gold Stadium, endured a nail-biting comeback attempt by Bethel before the Nighthawks managed to eke out a 22-14 victory Friday night.
“I think my team misinterpreted me. I wanted to give (the town) something to cheer about, but I would have liked to have seen a blowout, too,” Newtown coach Steve George said. “Unfortunately, (the team) had something else in mind. They wanted to give them something to cheer about until the end.”
Newtown, ranked No. 8 in the Register poll, exploded for 22 points in the second quarter. But quarterback Joe Piatnik and the Wildcats nearly stole the night away.
Newtown committed two turnovers in the second half and had a field goal attempt blocked. Piatnik, meanwhile, directed two, clock-eating touchdown drives to pull within 22-14 in the fourth quarter.
Them Newtown fumbled the ball away at the goal line, giving Bethel the ball with 6 minutes remaining.
Needing 99 yards for a tying score, Bethel got to midfield before Newtown’s Julian Dunn intercepted Piatnik on fourth down.
“We made some mistakes tonight and iy really put ourselves in a hole,” said Bethel coach Jason Gill, whose team’s high expectations took another hit as it fell to 0-2. “But we came out with all kinds of character and kept on fighting. …I couldn’t be any prouder right now. I’d be a little bit prouder if we would have won, but I’m pretty pleased.”
Even when Cooper Gold’s fumble with just over a minute remaining Bethel one last gasp of life, someone in a green jersey made a play.
Jaret DeVellis sent the home crowd happy when he plucked a batted pass to seal the game with a minute left.
“In the end, win is a win,” George said. “I was telling the kids beforehand, that’s what this game’s all about. We’re a resilient town, we went through some horrible events, but in the end things will be all right. They played hard to the ending whistle.”
Tim Krapf scored on a short run and quarterback Drew Tarantino threw a pair of touchdown passes to stake the Nighthawks (2-0) to a seemingly insurmountable 22-0 lead.
Tarantino’s first was a 14-yard strike to Dunn. Later, Tarantino found Dunn again for a 55-yard bomb that set up Tarantino’s 6-yard scoring pass to Troy Frangione on the final play of the half.
The second half was about staying strong.
“It was kind of overwhelming, just seeing all the people here,” Newtown lineman Dom Scarangella said. “There were more people here than I’ve ever seen at a game. We played for them tonight. It was kind of motivational. It was a good thing to distract them from all the stuff that’s happened.”
BETHEL 0 0 8 7 — 14
NEWTOWN 0 22 0 0 — 22
- N — Tim Krapf 5 run (Conor Miller kick)
- N — Julian Dunn 16 pass from Drew Tarantino (Conor Miller kick)
- N — Troy Frangione 6 pass Tarantino (Jaret Devellis run)
- B–Joe Piatnik 1 run (Cal Daniels pass Piatnik)
- B– Piatnik 8 run (pass failed)
- Records: Bethel 0-2, Newtown 2-0