Pomperaug overcomes adversity in thriller


The Pomperaug Panthers were desperate for a win Friday night going into their game against Holy Cross at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. After opening the season 2-0, they suffered three consecutive losses, so were at 2-3 going into the game.

Up until the fourth quarter Friday night, it seemed they were destined for a fourth straight loss. The Panthers deficit was 21 points late in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers had other ideas. Coach James Reed’s players put together an amazing comeback to score a whopping 22 points and stun Holy Cross 29-28.

Holy Cross marched down the field quickly on the game’s opening drive. A big run helped push the Crusaders deep down field and a 25-yard screen pass for a touchdown capped off the drive. The Panthers found themselves in a familiar place, playing catchup on the scoreboard. Pomperaug mounted a long drive only to be stopped on fourth and goal near the Crusader end zone.

The Crusaders took over and began to push the ball on the Panthers again. The team’s defense answered the call however, as Jimmy Christiano pressured the Holy Cross quarterback, forcing an errant pass that was intercepted by Jake Harwell.

With new life in them, the Panthers began to drive again, and senior running back Mike Foschi began to take over the game on the ground. Foschi broke free for a long run, putting his team at the Holy Cross 25-yard line. Then sophomore quarterback Joseph Lacava hooked up with his favorite target of the night, Christiano, two times. The second time was a spectacular diving catch down to the Holy Cross 2-yard line. Foschi punched the hand-off into the end zone, and Kevin Nadler added the extra point.

The Panther offense sputtered in the second quarter, however, and the team failed to score again before halftime. Meanwhile, Holy Cross responded quickly to the Pomperaug touchdown, gashing the Panther defense with their ground attack. Holy Cross struck for another touchdown late in the second quarter.

With no time left on the clock, a 20-yard touchdown pass followed by a two-point conversion seemed to be a back-breaker for the Pomperaug Panthers. Instead of being down 13-7 at the half, they were down 21-7. At halftime, Coach Reed asked his players to “believe, to just take a leap of faith with me.”

The third quarter started off the same, and it seemed all hope was lost for Pomperaug. The Crusaders ran a slant pass play for a long 75-yard touchdown pass to put them at what seemed to be a decisive 28-7. But Foschi picked up where he left off and began to find holes in the Crusader defense. After combined efforts by Foschi and Jake Hardwell, the Panthers were facing a fourth and goal.

On the initial play, the Panthers were stopped, but a flag on Holy Cross allowed them one more shot at fourth down. Coach Reed put the ball in Foschi’s hands from the 7-yard line, and he followed the offensive line’s blocking straight into the end zone. It was now 28-14, and Pomperaug was showing some life on the sidelines.

It seemed time was not on their side, however, as the clock stood at 11:09 in the fourth quarter. The defense began to buckle down on Holy Cross. The Crusaders drove deep down field only to be forced to turn it over on downs. Lacava completed passes to Jacob Mendicino and Nick Catuccio, pushing the Panthers past midfield. Once again, it would be Foschi; he took the handoff and galloped 48 yards to the end zone. “Mike Foschi was unbelievable tonight. He was the spark we needed,” Coach Reed said.

With the score 28-21 Holy Cross, the Panther sideline and crowd were energized. They had 5:18 to play, and their defense was coming up with big stops.

The Panthers tried their second consecutive onside kick to try and get the football back quickly, but Holy Cross recovered the ball. A penalty on the Panthers pushed the Crusaders deeper into the Pomperaug side of the field. Holy Cross ran themselves inside the 10-yard line looking to put the game away for good.

Austin Post made a touchdown-saving tackle, and the Panthers stood their ground, forcing a fourth and 1 from the 3-yard line. On a key play of the game, Pomperaug’s goal line defense met the Crusaders’ ball carrier and pushed him backwards to the 4-yard line. The Panthers got the ball back with 2:47 to go.

Even with all the momentum on Pomperaug’s side a 96-yard drive with only 2:47 to go seemed daunting, especially with an inexperienced young backup in Lacava. Asked if he thought he would be in this situation this year, he said, “No, definitely not.” But Lacava took the wheel and showed his poise. On the first play of the drive, he connected a quick pass to Nadler, who took off down the sidelines for 42 yards before being knocked out of bounds.

On the next play, Lacava threw an absolute strike between two defenders straight into the leaping grasp of Catuccio. After a run for no gain and a deep incomplete pass, Lacava was faced with a big third and 10 to go. Somehow yet again Lacava came up with a precision throw to Catuccio in the corner of the end zone, Catuccio sprawled out in a full dive and corralled the ball for the score.

Coach Reed sent Nadler and the kicking unit on for the extra point to tie the game; however, Holy Cross jumped offside. The penalty put the ball at the 1-yard line. Reed choose to send his offense back on the field to go for the win with 1:42 left. Again, Foschi slammed it in for the two-point conversion, putting Pomperaug in front 29-28.

Asked if he had to think about going for the two-point play, Reed said, “Foschi said he wanted to go for two. It’s his team. I knew there was no way he was going to be denied.”

Lacava gave the coaches a lot of credit for the team’s comeback. “There was a lot of good play calling, and that first play to Nadler really got us going,” he said.

The game wasn’t over yet, and there was still time left for Holy Cross to mount a drive. The deal was sealed when Hardwell intercepted his second pass of the night. With little time left on the clock Lacava was able to take a knee and run the clock out.

With their win against Holy Cross, the Panthers record improves to 3-3 on the season and ends their three-game losing skid. Holy Cross now falls to 4-2 on the year.

The Panthers will be back at it after this emotional win when they face Bethel next Friday at 7 p.m. at Bethel High School. Bethel is 4-2 on the year and can be expected to present a tough task.



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