TRUMBULL — It was written in the stars and wasn’t going to end any other way.
Three seconds left and facing overtime against a perennial powerhouse, Newtown conjured the magic a Hollywood writer couldn’t even dream of producing.
Newtown’s storybook season had a magical ending Saturday as Riley Ward hauled in a 36-yard touchdown from Jack Street as time expired, giving top-seeded Newtown a 13-7 win and the Class LL championship over No. 3 Darien. It was the first title for Newtown since 1992 and completed a perfect 13-0 season.
“I’ve never won a game in any sport like that before,” Ward said. “I’ve never had a walk-off in anything. I still can’t believe that just happened. … We were in a slump in the whole game, the coaches called a few plays and we executed them perfectly.”
The victory came seven years to the day of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ward raced to his sizable student section, all wearing green, and celebrated with his teammates.
“Our whole town showed out tonight,” said Newtown linebacker Jared Dunn, the team’s emotional leader who dominated at his position. “That’s all I can ask for; there’s nothing better (than) to win it for your town, especially on a day like today. We remember everyone, and credit to Darien.”
Newtown vanquished a series of painful playoff exits with the heroics, and proved they belonged with the elite in the state all season long by surviving a host of tests against quality opposition. Darien was making its sixth finals appearance in the last seven years.
“I don’t think you could write a better ending to this one,” Newtown coach Bobby Pattison said. “I couldn’t believe he was that open; everybody started running and I was looking for someone to hug.”
For as incredible as the victory was for the Nighthawks, it was equally as crushing for the Blue Wave, who shed plenty of tears of their own the sideline. Just seconds earlier, Darien had a 4th-and-short from just outside the red zone but Newtown’s defense got yet another stop.
“It’s a hard way to lose and a great way to win for them,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “That’s all I can tell you; I knew both defenses were very good and I was extremely impressed with how our defense shut down their run game. They have a big offensive line and a great running back.”
The Nighthawks had less than a minute to go 68 yards, and two receptions by Ward (five catches, 145 yards) got Newtown within striking distance. They called two timeouts — one to stop the clock, another after seeing Darien’s formation — before the game’s final play.
“We called corner-post,” Ward said. “We saw a guy in the middle of the field and called timeout. We all got back on the field and said let’s run post-corner. We knew where it was going and we executed.”
The Blue Wave led 7-0 — which they took in the second quarter on a touchdown pass from Peter Graham to Ryan Mulliken — before Ward produced his first piece of magic. Street evaded a pass rusher and zipped a pass to the senior, who raced 75 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. That tied the game with 6:58 to play.
The game was a defensive struggle at McDougall Stadium, one that got covered in a dense fog as the game wore on. Darien held the Nighthawks to less than 30 passing yards before the Ward’s first score, and had opportunities to add to its lead. Newtown’s defense came up with the answer every time, though.
ONE OF THEIR OWN
Bobby Pattison moved to Newtown when he was five years old; he played for the school and returned to the school as an assistant before getting the head coaching job in 2017.
“It’s surreal,” Pattison said. “I get really nervous before every game, but I told the kids I wasn’t nervous for once, and it was because I was confident we belong. We believe we’re the state’s best. We made plays down the stretch. It was a tremendous year.”
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Jared Dunn and Riley Ward, Newtown: The former was a force on every defensive snap for the Nighthawks, finishing with three sacks and an interception. The latter wrote himself into Newtown lore in less than 10 seconds.
“Jared is one of the state’s best,” Pattison said. “The defensive mentality is aggression and it’s a pack mentality.”
“All offseason we worked our tails off,” Dunn said. “Every offseason event we went to, whether it was the passing leagues in the 100 degree weather or the lineman challenge, we had the mindset that we were going to win every day and we were going to take it home this year.”