The previous three football games between Wethersfield and Newington came down to the final possession.
That changed last Wednesday night when the Eagles shutout the Indians 35-0 at Cottone Field in the series most lopsided game since 1977.
A lot of hype surrounded the annual Thanksgiving-eve battle, as the teams entered with identical 7-2 records with major playoff implications on the line.
“I told the kids all week, treat it like any other game. Don’t get over-hyped, you’re going to see news reports and articles, but just play your game. Let them do all the talking, let’s play with our pads. We practiced like that all week and the kids executed,” said Wethersfield head coach Matt McKinnon.
Newington was victorious in each of the last two seasons against Wethersfield but it was clear from the start that the Eagles weren’t about to lose a third straight to their rivals.
On the Indians first offensive play, a miscue allowed playmaking defense lineman Nick Thompson to score on a fumble recovery from eight yards out.
And the rout was on.
“We executed well on that play. I couldn't have imaged it any better,” Thompson said of the early scoop and score, “All of our practices led up to this. We game-planned against them so well and we came out and it showed. It feels great, it feels incredible.”
“It relaxed all of us, including me,” McKinnon said of Thompson’s strip-six, “When we got on the scoreboard early, I knew the defense had this.”
Senior quarterback Matt Silver thanked Thompson following his touchdown, “I told him ‘I owe you one’. I have their backs on offense and they have our backs on defense, and they did that today. That’s a momentum changer for sure.”
On Wethersfield’s next offensive play, Silver delivered on his promise when he connected with Connor Pace on a bomb down the left sidelines. Pace hauled in the deep ball before breaking a pair of tackle and sprinting the rest of the way for a 65-yard touchdown.
Not to be outdone, Wethersfield’s special teams made their presence felt when Jacob Rivera and Dylan Knapp combined to block a punt late in the first quarter.
Kicker Evan Sipala connected on all five of his extra point attempts and Pace had another solid game punting, including pinning his first punt inside the ten-yard line, which ultimately led to Thompson’s touchdown.
“We take special teams serious. We preach all three phases of the game and our starters are in there. It’s not a play off and it showed tonight,” stated McKinnon, “It starts with our special teams coordinator, Chris Linares, he does a phenomenal job preparing. I promoted him to a coordinator this year and he’s really taken that challenge. I love the guy.”
The blocked punt led to a three-yard scoring keeper from Silver, and later in the half Silver again found Pace from 23-yards away, upping the lead to 28-0 at the break.
“He’s honestly such a great player,” Silver said of Pace, “It’s great that we know they have to game plan against him. We’ve had this connection all the time.”
The second half featured an opportunistic defense and ball control offense from the home team.
Newington threatened to score on their first two possession of the third quarter but turned it over on both occasions. Senior Kyle Edman picked off quarterback Nick Pestrichello in the back of the end zone and then Newington turned it over on downs inside the red zone on the following possession.
Johnny Orsini put the finishing touches on the game with a one-yard scoring plunge with 8:30 to play in regulation.
“That was our game plan going in, solid defense and run the ball,” McKinnon said, “I give all the credit to the kids and the coaching staff.”
Silver added that the win over their rivals was business as usual, “Preparation-wise we put all of our hard work and focus into this game. We didn’t think about it any different, we just knew what we had to do to win. They’re a good team, we just showed that we’re better.”
The win assured the Eagles a spot in the Class L playoffs for the first time since 2015 and, despite the loss, Newington also qualified for the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin