West Hartford’s Conard High School hosted Newington on Senior Night, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.
By Paul Palmer
Senior night can be an emotional time for high school athletes. It is a night where they and their families are honored for the commitment made to a sport. Friday night, the Chieftains football team used that emotion and some outstanding efforts by their senior leaders to upset Newington, 42-17.
Quarterback Israel Lopez used his arm and legs, and wide receiver Jack Kennedy used his moves and speed to lead the passing attack while Will Ball – normally known for his hard, inside running – broke off a pair of long TD runs to lead a Conard attack that chewed up yardage all night long.
The Chieftains came in at 2-3 and had not played in two weeks. Instead of being stale from the break, Coach Matt Cersosimo had his players in the right frame of mind. “We had a big two weeks of practice,” said the coach. “This is how we practiced and it’s a great way to start the second half of the season.”
His players felt the same way, believing that the break from games helped the team refocus on the things that would help them win. “We had a great bye week,” said Lopez. “We had great practices and we stuck together and tonight did what we did best in practice.”
For Ball, the two-TD performance on Senior Night was extra special as Friday was his 17th birthday. “It was a great opportunity for us,” said Ball. “We capitalized on it and it was my birthday so we knew we just had to win.”
The game was scoreless after the first quarter, Kennedy would score on pass from Lopez early in the second on a second and goal from the 10. But that was just the beginning. After the defense forced Newington to punt, Lopez found Kennedy over the middle, he made two good moves and 68 yards later it was 14-0 Chieftains.
“It was a 5-yard pass, and all the rest was Jack. He’s an incredible athlete,” said Lopez. They would later hook up on a nearly identical 66-yard scoring play. “They are two very special football players and unselfish kids.” said Cersosimo of his seniors.
But Conard would turn the ball over for the first of three critical times in the game one possession later. Newington would recover a ball fumble at the Conard 12. The Nor’Easters would convert it into 7 points with 4:21 to go in the second. “I didn’t let the bad thoughts get in my head,” said Ball of the fumble. “I just erased it and went to play ball.” And that is exactly what he did.
The hosts took a 21-7 lead into the half thanks to some good defensive stops. Declan McCann made the first of his two interceptions in the end zone late in the first half to stop a promising Newington drive.
Lopez pushed the lead to 28-7 when he finished off a long drive by dashing along the far sideline for twenty-two yards and a score with 7:40 to play in the third. Ball scored about 4 minutes later when he burst through the line and rumbled 46 yards to pay dirt with Kennedy leading the blocking downfield. “The O-line was great,” said Ball. “I saw the whole, made a cut and ran.”
“He’s worked hard all season,” said Kennedy of Ball. “All that work paid off for him.”
But Newington was not ready to give up yet. Josiah Ross would take the ensuing kickoff and dash through the Conard kick coverage to make it 35-14.
As the fourth quarter dawned, Conard had to get through 12 minutes holding a 21-point lead at home. The defense stood up on Newington’s first drive of the quarter. Kennedy broke up a Newington pass into the end zone on a fourth down to give the ball back to Conard.
Ball would break off a 29-yard touchdown run off tackle on the next possession and it looked like Conard could start celebrating at 42-14, but Newington had other ideas.
A 41- yard run by Luca Corvino kept the visitors in the game. On Conard’s next series of downs, with Ball on the sidelines for some treatment, the Chieftains fumbled deep in their own end of the field and a Newington defender would scoop it up and run it in to make it 42-27 after a missed extra point.
Conard got the ball back with 2:06 left on the clock and the ball on their own 38. Ball put the final nail in the Nor’Easters coffin with a 34-yard run from scrimmage. The ball sat on deep in Newington territory and Lopez took a knee on two plays to run the clock out.
“This shows me they love each other and love playing for each other,” said the Conard coach of his players. “They had every reason to pack up their tents and go home when we were 2-3. Tonight, they showed me they are capable of doing whatever they set their minds to.”
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