NEW FAIRFIELD — A bad snap had just sailed over the head of the punter and New Fairfield fell on the football just 19 yards from the end zone. To make matters worse, on the next play, Notre Dame-Fairfield was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, leaving the Rebels, who trailed by a single point late in the third quarter, just eight yards away from the lead.
But two plays later, everything changed.
Notre Dame’s Zaire Williams recovered a fumble at the 12-yard line. From there, the Lancers marched 88 yards to score and capture a 19-12 win over New Fairfield on Friday night at Rebels Stadium.
Not only did the Lancers go 88 yards, they did it in 16 plays and took nearly nine minutes off the clock. From 1:21 left in the third quarter until just 4:46 remained in the game, Notre Dame kept the Rebels defense on the field, wearing them down with a ground attack that chewed up 64 yards, capped by quarterback Micah Brantley’s eight-yard touchdown run.
“That was a great drive,” ND coach Chris Sadler said. “That’s one of the big things in a tight game like this, if you can run some clock it puts them in a tough position with their running game to drive the field. The offense started hot and they finished hot. We just have to put it all together and play four quarters. If we can do that, we can make some noise this year.”
“I love that the line stepped up, although we made some mistakes, we overcame the adversity and came through,” Brantley said. “We overcame a lot of things in this game.”
The bad snap over punter Pete Minore’s head just being one of them. In addition, there were two lost fumbles and some defensive lapses that allowed the Rebels to break some big gains, but overall, the Lancers found a way, something they might not have been able to do last season.
“I think last year we might have had a shot (at winning),” ND-Fairfield coach Chris Sadler said. “I know my first year, not so much because they didn’t understand how to win. Tonight, the senior leadership took over and they really came together. Even when bad things were happening they stepped up and made some plays.”
The Lancers stormed out the gates and needed just two plays to take the early lead. With the ball on the 48 after forcing a New Fairfield punt, Brantley found Jeremy Reid behind the secondary for a 52-yard gain down to the Rebels 1-yard line. On the next play, Brantley scored to make it 6-0.
On ND-Fairfield’s next possession, the Lancers went 77 yards, highlighted by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Brantley to Tavon Simpson. Gianni Frango’s extra point pushed the lead to 13-0.
But from there, the Lancers offense stalled and New Fairfield took advantage, with Zach Buffington scoring touchdowns on runs of 15 and 18 yards in the second quarter to pull the Rebels within 13-12 at halftime.
Buffington had 87 yards on 15 carries at halftime. But after the Lancers shifted their defense to a six-man front, the junior managed just 29 yards in the second half.
“We ran the ball well in the first half and then they made a couple of adjustments,” New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata said. “They went to a different front in the second half and we tried changing some looks in the second half with the run but we couldn’t get anything going. And then, in that key spot, we just fumbled the ball. Key play.”
NOT IN THE BOX
The win, the second in three starts for the Lancers this season, continues the upward climb that has been initiated by coach Chris Sadler, now in his third season. When you add in the four wins in the final five starts from 2016, ND has won six of its last eight games.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
ND quarterback Micah Brantley. The senior finished the game with 85 yards rushing on 15 carries, scoring two touchdowns and completed 11 of 27 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve really stepped up this year. We didn’t have the same kind of heart last year that we do this year. We have way more heart this year. We’re young, but we have a lot of heart. — Brantley
ND-FAIRFIELD 19, NEW FAIRFIELD 12
ND-FAIRFIELD 13 0 0 6—19
NEW FAIRFIELD 0 12 0 0—12
ND—Micah Brantley, 1 run (kick failed)
ND— Tavon Simpson, 12 pass Brantley (Gianni Frango kick)
NF—Zach Buffington, 15 run (kick blocked)
NF—Buffington, 18 run (pass failed)
ND—Brantley, 8 run (kick failed)
Records: ND-Fairfield 2-1; New Fairfield 1-2