WETHERSFIELD - The Newington football teamâ€™s offense had been humming heading into Wednesday nightâ€™s regular season finale against rival Wethersfield, having averaged 38 points per game over its last six contests.
The Indians agreed that the Eagles would present their offense with its toughest test of the season, but despite the show of respect, they remained stunned after what was a 35-0 loss and the teamâ€™s worst offensive showing of the season, on a night when it needed to be at its best to try and capture a home game in the Class L state tournament.
â€śI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s happened to us offensively [this season],â€ť running back John Amaning said. â€śMaybe at Amity, but [Wednesday] we just werenâ€™t clicking. We practiced well this week and the offense was playing well, so Iâ€™m surprised. They had a good defensive plan, I guess.â€ť
The 7-3 loss to Amity earlier in the season had been an outlier for Newington, which had become a consistent and prolific scoring threat with the continued evolution of junior quarterback Nick Pestrichello and Amaning, who exploded onto the scene this season with over 1,000 rushing yards after logging just 72 in 2018.
The quick and drastic improvement of Pestrichello and Amaning have been a vital component of the Indiansâ€™ first winning season in seven years, and their first state tournament appearance in over a decade. But if their historic postseason berth is to last more than one night, their dynamic duo has to be better than it was on Wednesday night.
â€śWeâ€™re going to sit down and remember this and remember where we should have made a cut or made a pass,â€ť Amaning said. â€śWeâ€™re going to keep those mental notes.â€ť
Amaning, who finished the night with 48 yards on the ground, well below his season average of 112, fumbled on his first carry from scrimmage, resulting in a Wethersfield touchdown that Newington seemed to never recover from. Pestrichello labored through a first half where the Indians managed just 34 yards of offense, and even when he began to find a rhythm, it was disrupted by mistakes.
In the third quarter, a drive into the red zone ended with an interception in the end zone, and the following drive, which also saw Newington enter the red zone, was halted by a turnover on downs after three straight incompletions.
Like Amaning, it seemed like an early miscue doomed Pestrichello for the rest of the forgettable night, though this one wasnâ€™t caused by Pestrichello. On his second passing attempt of the game, Pestrichello dropped in a tight spiral into the hands of wide receiver Austyn Howe in stride, and would have been a sure touchdown had it not slipped right through the hands of Howe. It was the offenseâ€™s best chance of the night until Pestrichelloâ€™s interception in the end zone in the second half.
â€śWe had a few chances for big plays, even Austin on that long touchdown pass and he wasnâ€™t able to bring it in,â€ť Pace said. â€śThose are plays weâ€™ve been able to make all year, and we have to make sure going forward that we make those. But we knew going in that they had a tough defense. Theyâ€™ve held some really good offenses in check this season, and they did it to us [Wednesday].â€ť
The Indians could consider Wednesdayâ€™s outlier the cause of a very tough Eagles defense, but things wonâ€™t get any easier next week in the state tournament. Daniel Hand, Newingtonâ€™s likely opponent in the first round, hasnâ€™t allowed more than 14 points in a game all season, and is giving up just 7.2 points per game. If the Indians want to pull off a major upset, they will need their major threats to show up and play at the top of their game, and then some. Whether they will or not is yet to be determined, but Newington is making sure Wednesdayâ€™s lopsided loss serves as a proper wake-up call.
â€śWe just have to prepare harder,â€ť Amaning said. â€śIâ€™m never going to forget this feeling. I know that for a fact.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org