DANBURY, Dec. 2 – They were supposed to be the sacrificial lamb. Wave, take a bow or two and roll over before letting the top-ranked Brookfield football team march into the Class M championship game.
Even before Tuesday’s semifinal game was played, the coaching staff from defending Class M champion Ledyard was asking for game film from Brookfield to prepare for the championship game. How much of a challenge could Avon, a team that had never played in the state playoffs and a team from the Pequot Conference, provide?
The Falcons provided a pretty stiff challenge at Danbury High School.
Avon (9-3) forced six Brookfield turnovers and led by five points at halftime. And despite four turnovers of their own, Avon trailed by just eight points and had the ball near midfield with three minutes left in the game.
But the hard-hitting Bobcats scored nine points in the final two minutes to pull away from the Falcons in a 36-19 victory before about 3,000 fans. Ledyard rolled into the final with a 43-0 win over previously undefeated Cheney Tech.
Fourth-ranked Avon scored 12 unanswered points in the final four minutes of the second quarter to take a 12-7 lead at halftime. And despite Brookfield scoring 20 points in the third quarter, the Falcons cut the lead to eight early in the fourth quarter on Mike D’Onofrio’s 50-yard touchdown run with 10:17 left in the game.
“That’s a very good football team,” Brookfield coach Rich Angarano said. “I tip my hat to Avon. The coach and players did an excellent job. They come out with a lot of different looks.”
Brookfield’s speed and athleticism bottled up Avon’s offense. D’Onofrio, who came into the game with his second straight 1,000-yard campaign (1,131 yards) and 19 touchdowns, has held in check with 78 yards on 17 carries. But he had just 12 yards at halftime and he gained 50 yards on his fourth quarter touchdown run.
Ross McDonald, who had 777 yards and 13 carries in the regular season, was held to 14 yards on six carries. Avon junior quarterback Andy Livingstone went to the air with some success, completing a 11-of-24 passes for 191 yards – all career-highs.
But some passes were dropped by open receivers that could have been points. One dropped pass cost Avon a two-point conversion. And defensively, the Falcons missed some tackles that allowed Brookfield to gain extra yards.
The Falcons were proud of their effort but left the field knowing that they were in the game and the opportunity to pull off the upset was there.
“Maybe three weeks down the road, (the achievements of this season) will feel good. But tonight, it hurts,” Avon coach Brett Quinion said. “I’m very proud of my kids but we weren’t just satisfied to get here.”
The Bobcats (11-1) used play-action deception to open up the passing game. Junior QB Jordan Burandt completed 14-of-24 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns. His first TD pass was to Travis Treibt, who rambled 27 yards to give the Cats a 7-0 lead with 9:19 gone in the second quarter.
Stymied running the ball, D’Onofrio finally found some open space returning a punt, taking it back 35 yards to the Brookfield 20 with 3:54 left in the second quarter. After McDonald was nailed for a three-yard loss, Livingstone found Terence Olsen for a 20-yard gain to the three. D’Onofrio scored two plays later from the one.
But Brookfield’s Brendan Slattery came in cleanly to block the extra point attempt by David Wyrick to give the Cats a 7-6 lead.
Brookfield gained just six yards on its next possession and after a 36-yard punt, the Falcons took over on their own 14 with 2:14 remaining. Livingstone connected on a 15-yard pass to Tyler D’Onofrio and a 41-yard pass to Olsen to put the ball into Brookfield territory.
Livingstone scored easily on a naked bootleg reverse to the left with 57 seconds remaining. The two-point conversion pass was dropped in the end zone and the Falcons led 12-7 at halftime. "I think we were a little surprised," Trevor Treibt said. "We were frustrated that's for sure."
Brookfield scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter. After a 31-yard kickoff return from Anthony Vasturo, the Bobcats marched 55 yards in eight plays to take a 14-12 lead. Brian Kelly’s 20-yard reception, on which he broke two tackles, was the big play.
On its next possession, Brookfield made it look easy as Trevor Treibt broke three tackles down the sideline on a short screen pass to run 58 yards for a touchdown and a 21-12 lead. Avon fumbled the ball away on its next possession and Brookfield quickly moved 16 yards to take a 27-12 lead.
“We’ve been playing a lot of good teams in our league,” Angarano said. “We’re playing against Masuk and losing 17-9 and made some adjustments. We did the same thing against Bunnell and we did it tonight. Our adjustments quite frankly were execution. We didn’t execute in the first half. We executed in the second half and that was the difference in the game.”
After a Rhys Stockwell’s first interception of the year, the Falcons finally got D’Onofrio into open space. On third and two from the 50, D’Onofrio broke through the tight Bobcat defensive line and raced into the end zone with 10:17 remaining. Wyrick’s extra point cut the lead to eight, 27-19.
Brookfield gave up just one first down for the remainder of the game while forcing two Falcons turnovers, including a fumble from Olsen after a 17-yard gain at the Brookfield 38 yard line with 4:00 left in the game. They also stopped D’Onofrio on a key fourth-and-one at the Bobcat 44 to end another Falcon threat.
“I don’t think the score is indicative of the game,” Quinion said. “We had our chances. We hung with a great team. They beat Bunnell. They beat Masuk. They beat Newtown. They play a great schedule.”
Masuk went to the Class L championship game. Brookfield beat Newtown, which qualified for the Class LL playoffs, to win the Southwest Conference championship.
“This was something special,” D’Onofrio said. “I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life.”
Falcons prove they belong on the big stage
n Lambert Givens (46) and Joe Rosati (77) celebrate an Avon touchdown in the second quarter.
n Above, Avon fans celebrate during after the Falcons scored their 2nd touchdown of the game. Right, players can't believe it is over.