Jason Pace is in the midst of his second year rebuilding the Newington football program and the results are taking shape with each passing week.
Last Friday night the Indians continued to lay the foundation, thumping Bristol Eastern 25-7 at Alumni Field in Newington, improving the team to 3-2.
“We came out to play from the very beginning,” Pace said after watching his team match their win total from a season ago, “We were able to execute, we didn’t commit penalties, and we were able to make plays on defense. I’m proud of the guys and their effort.”
Quarterback Nick Pestrichello dazzled the home crowd with four touchdown passes in the first half, three to speedy wide receiver Izayah Ciarcia and the other to versatile star Gunnar Johnson.
The aerial assault and the physical running of Dylan Nees Fair carried the offense, while the defense and special team did their job---combining to create five turnovers.
The home victory came on the heels of an impressive and hard-fought 20-13 victory at South Windsor on Sept 28, earning the fast rising team their first back-to-back wins this season.
“It’s always good when you come out and you’ve had a good week of practice,” added Pace, whose team had a bye following the win at South Windsor, “When they see the results on the field it gives them that extra motivation.”
Despite having a younger roster, Pace has been able to plug in the right pieces at the right times and the team is gaining confidence with each snap.
Pestrichello is a prime example of that. The sophomore signal caller was thrust into the spotlight this season, replacing 2017 starter Robert Sanchez, and is showcasing a poise in the pocket that is uncommon for an underclassmen under center.
“He’s able to absorb the offense. We made some changes on offense and he fully understands it,” Pace said of his field general, “He’s an extensions of our offensive coordinator on the field and he does a good job at getting guys lined up. He’s got a good understanding of our offense at all times.”
Newington used their up-tempo offensive attack to score on their first two possessions, putting the visiting Lancers in a 13-0 hole before the first quarter was finished.
On the opening drive, Pestrichello hit Ciarcia on a three-yard scoring strike following an 11-play drive and on the ensuing possession connected with Johnson from eight-yards out on fourth down.
“I think it’s natural for him. He’s able to jump right in and it takes away the thinking and analyzing between plays,” Pace said of the no-huddle approach, “He does a good job commanding the offense. He’s not a vocal leader yet but he’s a leader on the field with his approach.”
In his first varsity start, Pestrichello completed 70% of his passes and tossed two scores, both coming in the opening quarter, during a convincing 41-0 victory over Amistad. Nees-Fair added three rushing touchdowns in opening week blowout.
The offense struggled over the next two weeks as Newington was outscored by a combined 66-7 in losses to Farmington and Platt, but the team has responded well with the road win over South Windsor and the home triumph last Friday.
In Pace’s first season at NHS the team won their first two games before dropping seven straight. 2017 did end on a high note for Pace’s Indians, who snapped the losing streak with a morale-boosting 17-13 victory over Wethersfield in the season finale.
It was their first win over the boarding rivals since 2012, following four straight losses to the Eagles.
This fall, the team is playing with more consistency and the defense is peaking at the midway point. They’ve allowed only 20 points in the last two contests and have been opportunistic in both games.
Teddy Fravel led a fierce pass rush against the Lancers and the Indians picked off quarterback Bryce Curtain three times, one each from the linebackers Zach Demarco, Julian Ortiz, and Julian Mulero.
Luca Briganti and Nees-Fair also recovered fumbles in the win.
“One of our goals is to have at least two defensive turnovers a game, so getting that many is great. That’s what we are looking for,” Fravel said of the five takeaways.
“Teddy had a great game, I thought up front we played well,” added Pace, “We bent but we didn’t break, only allowing one score and making the plays when we had to.”
Fravel is a force for the school’s state champion volleyball team and the middleman for the basketball team, now adding disruptive defensive end to his impressive resume during his senior year. He was consistently in Bristol Eastern’s backfield, pressuring Curtain and deflecting passes, and also making several tackles on backs and receivers downfield.
“That’s all hustle. You’ll see a lot of guys of film stand there and watch the ball, but that’s not me. I have to sprint over there and if nobody else is going to make the tackle I will,” Fravel said of his downfield tackles.
Next up is another home game against Bristol’s other group of gridironers, Bristol Central (2-3), on Friday Oct 19. Kickoff is at 6:30.
Another win this Friday night would completely flip the script from last fall when the Indians lost consecutive games to Bristol Eastern, South Windsor, and Bristol Central as part of their seven-game skid.
A win would also be another building block for Pace and the promising program.
“You could see tonight we came out fast, but now we have to learn how to put teams away,” stated Pace, “We just have to learn how to finish games.”
The Starting Five: Local Athletes of the Week
Kelly Iskra- Newington (Field Hockey): Iskra had a memorable night last Tuesday, celebrating Senior Night with her fellow seniors and scoring a pair of goals in a 3-0 shutout over Windsor. The high-honors athlete is one of eight seniors, which includes Sharon Sherpa, who was in goal during the shutout.
Julia O’Connor- Rocky Hill (Volleyball): O’Connor posted impressive numbers in back-to-back victories over Hartford Public and Plainville last Tuesday and Wednesday. The senior spiker totaled 33 kills, 15 aces, and five blocks in the two wins as the Terriers moved one step closer to securing a tournament spot.
Max Karkos- Wethersfield (Soccer): Karkos scored three goals last week, including a pair in a win over E.O. Smith. The junior’s offensive production helped lead the eagles to a 2-0-1 week, which included a 3-1 victory over rival Newington last Saturday.
Sadie Budzik- Cromwell (Volleyball): Budzik had 17 kills, nine digs, and four aces in a four set victory over Valley Regional last Monday. The junior is the team leader in all three categories (kills, digs, aces) this season and is one of three captains on a Panthers team that could make some noise in the postseason tournaments.
Xzavier Reyes- Middletown (Football): Reyes has continued to bull over the competition, rushing for 171 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-7 victory over Farmington. During the Blue Dragons 5-0 start, Reyes has averaged 161 total yards per game and has tallied 13 touchdowns.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin