By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
AVON, Nov. 22 -- The sun had slipped behind the hill and the Avon High football savored the final minutes of the 2003 football campaign with a sweet celebration near midfield.
Avon's first-year coach Brett Quinion got doused with the water cooler and there were smiles all around as the Falcons celebrated a season-ending 25-14 win over arch-rival Farmington. For the second time in the last three years, Avon (4-6, 3-6 Nutmeg) had upset the Indians (7-4, 6-3 Nutmeg).
Avon running back Tom Canty rushed for a game-high 142 yards and broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the season. Avon forced four Farmington turnovers and ended the season with its third win in the last four games.
"No one expected us to be in all of these games," said sophomore defensive back Chris Prudhomme, who came up with a pair of key interceptions. "We just kept going and kept pushing. It was probably our best game of the year."
Avon came off a 1-9 campaign in 2002 and started this season with only one win in its first seven games. It wasn't easy in the early weeks, especially with losses to Berlin (32-8), Enfield (21-7) and East Catholic (34-0).
"I had a new system on both sides of the ball and they fought me tooth and nail," Quinion said. "But we got a few wins and they started believing in our techniques.
"Every (coaching) staff is different," he said. "Defensively, we are much more gap responsible. Last year, they took more chances defensively. Offensively, (the kids) wanted to throw the ball more like they did last year."
Avon had a frustrating 13-9 loss to Rocky Hill but played better in a 21-7 loss to Middletown.
"We were tied in the fourth quarter and I think the kids realized that if we do what the coaches tell us, maybe we can get over the hump," Quinion said.
The Falcons rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Plainville for the first time since 1989 with a 14-7 victory. Canty's seven-yard run in the fourth quarter was the difference.
"I think we went into that game fearing Plainville and came out with confidence," he said.
Vinal Tech/Coginchaug slipped past the Falcons, 15-14 but Avon rebounded to beat Northwest Catholic, 14-13, as Canty and A.J. Brown stopped a two-point conversion attempt late in the game to secure the victory.
The Falcon players didn't like it when Quinion told them that he thought they had played poorly despite winning. "I knew we would get blown out (against Farmington) if we played that way," he said.
Against Farmington, the Falcons played with passion, hustle and heart. On Avon's second play from scrimmage, Canty faked out the Indian defense and scampered away on a 48-yard touchdown run with only 1:57 gone in the game and a 6-0 lead.
The Falcons made it 12-0 in the second quarter when Max Martinez outleaped a Farmington defender for a 31-yard touchdown pass. On Farmington's next possession, Martinez sacked Indian QB Steve Harrington, who fumbled, allowing Avon's Chris Balich to recover on the Indian 30-yard line.
"Our defense set the tone," Quinion said. Added Prudhomme, We hit on every single play. We're a small team but we can hit."
Avon drove to the Farmington seven but went backwards after QB Tony Casorio was sacked for an 11-yard loss by Adam Golab. Facing fourth down and 12, Casorio lofted a pass toward the end zone that Ben Lerer waited for and outleaped the FHS defender for a touchdown and a 18-0 lead with 5:33 left in the half.
Prudhomme ended Farmington's next drive by leaping in front of a FHS receiver and diving to intercept the ball.
Behind the running of Nick Bliss, Farmington drove to the Avon 18-yard line on its first possession of the second half.
But Matt Friedhoff and Martinez pinned Bliss behind the line of scrimmage for a two-yard loss. Harrington's pass on third down was incomplete and a 37-yard field goal attempt by Sean Garvey was just wide.
Early in the fourth quarter, Farmington threatened again. After a 50-yard completion from Harrington to Jermaine Baskerville and a 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Falcons, Farmington was on the Falcon 17-yard line.
But once again, Prudhomme dove to intercept the ball and stymie the Indians. Farmington cut the lead to 18-2 on a safety and drove 47 yards on its next possession to cut the lead to 18-8 with 5:43 left in the game.
But Avon responded with a 55-yard touchdown march of its own. Canty began it with a 30-yard run and Casorio finished it with a 28-yard TD pass to Lerer, who waited for the ball and outleaped defender Matt Hancock for a 24-8 edge with 3:32 left.
Farmington coach Jeff Bemis was disappointed in his team. "It started with practice we had this week. The kids thought this game would be a walk-over," he said. "Avon is always sky-high for us. Obviously this isn't a rivalry for our kids."
Canty finished the season with five straight 100-yard efforts. Casorio was 8-of-13 for a career-high 176 yards and no interceptions (for the first time this season).
"The players really wanted this game," Canty said. "We had a serious week of practice. There was no slacking off. It was all business."
"A lot of people didn't believe in us," Canty said. "We showed them something today."
And as the sun went down, a few players still lingered on the field. The pads were off, their pants covered with mud. But they scampered around the field, running patterns and throwing and catching the ball.
This was a day to remember and savor.