New Fair­field clos­ing sea­son with a flurry

The News-Times - - SPORTS - By Ryan Lacey

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.”

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