The Newtown (Conn.) High football team, which dedicated its season to the victims of last year’s Sandy Hook school shooting and finished the regular season unbeaten, lost in a state playoff game Tuesday night, bringing its season to an end.
The Nighthawks rallied from a 22-point second-half deficit and climbed to within two points in the game’s final seconds, but failed to convert on a 2-point conversion and lost to visiting Ridgefield, 35-33, in a Class LL quarterfinal, The News-Times reported.
Newtown entered the game 12-0 and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, having run the table and earned a bit of a national following as the team honored the victims of the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in which 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Combining tributes to the victims such as a special "26" helmet decal and stellar play, Newtown High had managed to bring joy and laughter to its town as the first anniversary of the shootings approached.
On Monday, the Nighthawks had learned they would not be made to play the championship game on the anniversary of the shooting, had they advanced that far. Instead, their season ended two games short of the final, but not without one last rally.
With his team down 35-13, Newtown senior quarterback Andrew Tarantino connected with junior Troy Frangione on an 11-yard scoring pass to make it 35-20. Tarantino then found himself on the receiving end of an 11-yard score, catching a pass from junior receiver Julian Dunn on a double-pitch pass back to the QB. That made it 35-27 with 11:17 to play in the fourth.
With 16 seconds to play, Newtown senior running back Cooper Gold scored on a 6-yard sweep to draw the Nighthawks within 2. But Tarantino was pressured by Ridgefield’s Patrick Weston on the conversion attempt and his pass into the end zone was knocked down.
"We tried to get the ball over the middle in the end zone; it’s a play we work on a lot in practice," Newtown coach Steve George told The News-Times of the conversion attempt. "Unfortunately, we didn’t block too well on that play. It’s a very tough loss. We had our opportunities in the red zone in the first half. We just didn’t capitalize."
"This loss hurts a lot, I feel bad for our seniors, who are a great group of players," George said.