Kyle Vasquez had a Senior Night that he will not soon forget, scoring three touchdowns in Wethersfield’s 27-6 victory over Manchester last Friday night.
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Eagles and improved their record to 4-5.
Vasquez, who is a hardnosed running back, rushed for 116 yards and scored two of his touchdowns on the ground.
But it was his first score that was less traditional and ultimately the difference maker.
With Wethersfield leading 3-0 in the third quarter, Manchester punter Dakhari Huggins had a snap sail over his head. Huggins was able to pick up the errant ball, but Wethersfield senior Stevenson Paul jarred the ball loose again and Vazquez pounced on it in the back of the end zone.
“It feels great,” said Vasquez, “It’s big because it was our last game here and everyone was doubting us because they score a lot of point, but we stopped them on defense.”
The senior captain also led the defensive charge, tallying a pair of sacks and a handful of other quarterback hurries.
“He’s extremely quick coming off the ball and he’s hard to block,” Wethersfield head coach John Campanello said of Vasquez, “He’s done a great job on both sides of the ball and he’s having a really nice year.”
Due to high winds and bitter cold temperatures, it took a while for Eagles offense to take flight, but the special teams and defense carried the load for the first two and a half quarters.
Kicking specialist Austin Stefano provide the only first-half points when he split the uprights from 25-yard out. The senior, who is better known as ‘Stin The Kicker’, also helped the Eagles win the field position battle, pinning his first two punts inside the 10-yard line.
“He adds a whole other dimension. I’ve even attempted a 55-yard this year, which I’ve never done before,” Campanello said of Stefano, who is also one of the team’s starting wide receivers, “It’s great to have that other dimension.”
Following Vasquez special teams-score, the offense began to exert their will against the visiting Indians, who came into the game with a record of 4-4.
Converted wide receiver Brendan Dowd played the entire game at quarterback for the Eagles. The junior ignited the offense with several clock-churning quarterback draws, including five in a row to set up the second score for Vasquez, who plunged in the final yard to extend the lead to 17-0 with 4:49 left in the third quarter.
The duo was able to grind out chunks of yards on the ground thanks to the play of the guys up front. Austin Harnish, John Tine, Conor Keane, Jonathan McAlister, and Avishek Das opened sizeable holes for the backs to run through.
Stefano added another 25-yard field goal and Vasquez polished off the scoring from four yards out with his final rushing touchdown.
Vasquez’ final touchdown was also set up by Dowd, who intercepted a pass after Manchester had cut the deficit to 20-6 on a touchdown run from Edison Galan.
On the play, the Indians were marching downfield in an effort to narrow the gap to a single score, but Dowd, who starts at middle linebacker, stepped in front of a pass from Galan and returned it 71 yards to the Manchester 14-yard line.
Dowd has done a little of everything this year and is the team’s third starting quarterback during a roller coaster season in Wethersfield. The team lost two-dozen seniors in the offseason to graduation and has battled injuries and hardship all season. Quarterbacks Tim Blaisdell and Craig Elliott, along with team captain Jamal Bagley, have missed a majority of the season due to injuries.
“They keep on competing and they keep on battling. It hasn’t been easy, but they’re hanging in and they keep on working hard and believing,” Campanello said of the resilient team, “I was glad that they got such a nice reward by playing such a good game. I thought it was the best overall game that we’ve played all year. This was a good club, they’ve been averaging over 30 points per game and I thought in all three aspect of the game we did a really nice job tonight.”
It was the third time this season that the Eagles defense has held to opposition under ten points and their best performance since shutting out Bristol Eastern back on Sept 23. Vasquez and Dowd made the biggest impact plays, but McAlister also registered two sacks and sophomore David Colon recovered a fumble in the first half.
The team and their 13 seniors have a chance to finish the season with as many wins as losses, if they can win their annual holiday bowl at Newington on the eve of Thanksgiving. The Eagles have won the last three contests against Newington, who will host the game and enter with a record of 3-6 following a zany 48-41 overtime loss to Conard last Friday.
“We need to practice hard all week and we need to be focused going into that game,” Vasquez said of the impending Newington game, which kicks off at 6 p.m.
“We’ve had a bit of an up and down year. To finish off winning the last two games would be a nice way to end the year,” added Campanello.
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Rocky Hill girls’ soccer upset Wolcott 1-0 in double overtime during the first round of the Class M tourney. Allison Grover set up the game-winning goal with a perfect corner kick and Grace Moore finished off the point with eight minutes remaining in the second overtime. Shutdown defender Marisa Anderson and goalie Samantha Steinman help preserve the tourney shutout.
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Middletown girls’ soccer blanked Conard 4-0 in the opening-round of the Class LL finals. Amalia Sessoms scored a pair of goals and goalie Jillian Gordon stopped every shot. Alex Giardina and Courtney Vogel added the other two Blue Dragon goals.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin