New Fairfield closing season with a flurry
NEW FAIRFIELD — Assistant coaches stood above the players of the New Fairfield football team after a disappointing 35-0 loss to Newtown opening night. The result was the 10th loss in 11 games dating back to last season, yet the message was still strangely positive.
The Rebels sensed they were about to turn the corner. What followed was a 35-6 defeat to Class L champion Hand (8-0), which has yet to win by fewer points this season.
Then it happened. New Fairfield began stringing together impressive performances en route to four wins from its last six games.
“I like the way the kids have been playing all year,” said Rebels coach Anthony Fata. “It’s a tough start to the season with Newtown and Hand Week 1 and 2, but ... I think it made us stronger the rest of the way.”
If it was another season — or if the Rebels didn’t play five potential seven-plus-win teams — New Fairfield would be two wins away from the Class M tournament. But two close losses to teams headed toward the playoffs — Bunnell and Brookfield — are all that’s keeping the Rebels from playing past Thanksgiving.
“We played two of the top teams in the state the first two games,” said senior Zach Buffington “We lost a couple after that but we’re going to keep proving we’re the team we are and finish out the season 4-0.”
The best 4-4 team in the state? Maybe. The game against the Bulldogs will likely hurt the most. New Fairfield — which also led Brookfield 7-0 before losing
10-7 — led 14-2 heading into the final quarter before Bunnell rallied.
“Looking back on it, we had a lot of stupid penalties,” said senior Zack Thuesen. “Flags and mistakes like getting personal fouls. We knew we should have won both of those games; we stopped getting those penalties and we’re back on track.”
An identity shift was part of the spark for the Rebels. After experimenting with a balanced offense with more throws down the field, a return to a run-heavy system gained traction. Buffington is playing at an all-league level as he’s rushed for 717 yards and eight touchdowns. Quarterback Will Enright is averaging more than 7 yards per carry and has found the end zone six times on the ground. The pair are lacrosse teammates, and each has left his mark at the school.
“I think (Enright) has rushed for 100 yards the past couple of games,” Fata said. “That’s a deadly combination, when the defense can’t just load the box and just try to stop the tailback,
you have to keep your keys because you don’t know if the quarterback is coming off the edge.”
Thuesen has been a force, too. He has three sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 63 total tackles, all tops on the team.
The signature win came two weeks ago when a thunderous defensive performance led to a 31-0 shutout of then-6-1 Weston. The Rebels made it two straight shutouts Saturday with a 39-0 win over ND-Fairfield. A strong secondary led by Dan Lennon, Nick Dimyan, Liam Ford and JT Thuesen has been a key component, Fata said.
“Anybody that’s played us can say that New Fairfield comes to play,” Fata said. “That’s the thing I’m proud of; maybe the record isn’t an indication of what you can do but I know any team that’s played us knows we’re going to come after you.”
The Rebels finish the season with games against Barlow and New Milford, providing them a chance to finish above .500 and enter 2019 on a high note.
“We hope to finish the season 6-4,” Thuesen said. “We’re all just rallying to the ball real fast.”