WETHERSFIELD — It was impossible to find a smiling face on the Newington football team’s sideline following its 35-0 loss to rival Wethersfield on Wednesday night, but once the Indians received word that Newtown beat Masuk to help the team clinch a state tournament berth, head coach Jason Pace had to crack the slightest grin.
“Thanks,” Pace said, turning away with a small smile after he was told of Newtown’s victory, which sent his Indians to the state tournament for the first time since 2008.
It was hardly the manner in which Newington wanted to find out about its historic season, but even a blowout loss to its hated rival couldn’t take away from the Indians’ overall accomplishment. With a 7-3 record, the first winning campaign for a Newington team since 2012, the Indians had successfully completed their rebuild that has been slowly orchestrated over the past few years.
“I know we lost tonight, but man, you have no idea what Newington has been through,” running back John Amaning said. “All those losing years, and everyone hit the weight room this offseason and we’re just happy to be here.”
What Newington has been through is six straight losing seasons, including two in the first two years of Pace’s tenure, but he preached patience as he built the program around a revamped culture. The players bought in, and since the preseason, told anyone who would listen that 2019 would be the year that the all-out rebuild would finally show a finished product. Those words seemed to carry some merit after a season-opening win over an always competitive Windsor team. It became even more real when the Indians shocked a top-10 team in Maloney, and now, the state as a whole can see the rewards Newington is taking in for its painstaking quest to endure 40 losses over a span of six seasons to achieve a greater goal.
It was hard to see through the steady rain and the disappointment of the team’s worst loss of the season, but through that frustration was the reward for what has been the team’s best season in over 10 years. Newington didn’t win, but it’s in.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Amaning said. “We worked so hard in the offseason to get to this point.”
The work really began when Pace took over in 2017, and it paid off. So even after one of the most frustrating losses of his tenure, when he found out that the plan he put in place had resulted in the team’s ultimate goal, he had to crack a smile. It was too important of a landmark of success to go unnoticed, even in the wake of a such a defeat.