The MX 11 entered their 5th NEPSAC Postseason Game, playing in the Mark Conroy Bowl, hosted by The Canterbury School (7-1) in New Milford, Conn. Saturday afternoon. The 2019 team started the season slowly with a tie and a loss, but from the third game on this team never looked back and improved with every challenge, going 5-1 over the remaining 6 games of the season. With each victory came the excitement and hopes for the postseason but also the reality and pressure that we could not lose again. The Zebras answered and went an impressive 4-0 in their last four games. When the team received word on the Sunday after St. George's that the NEPSAC Football Committee had chosen us for a Bowl Game, the emotions that were most obvious were utter joy, relief, anticipation and determination.
The practice week leading up to the bowl game was the coldest of the season, with record lows on both Tuesday and Wednesday, but nothing seemed to dampen the team's mood or focus. Game day started early with breakfast at 7:30 and departure on our three-hour bus ride at 8:00 am. Once we arrived, getting the "bus legs" out of our system was the first order of business. The day was clear and cold with a significant breeze blowing west to east from end zone to end zone. By pregame, all the players and coaches were back in the zone, warmed up and ready to play.
Canterbury won the coin toss and deferred, giving us the ball first. Although we moved the ball, we were forced to punt right away. Canterbury wasted no time in letting us all know their game plan, which was going to be a "smash-mouth", "downhill running", "stop us if you can" offense. Although we practiced against this type of offense, its one thing to familiarize yourself with an offense and a totally another thing to play against a team that has been running this offense all season. Canterbury proceeded to march the ball down the field as we adjusted to their size and speed. Canterbury eventually opened the scoring in the game and claiming a 6-0 early lead. The MX offense again sputtered and punted the ball but this time, punter Cedrick Paradis '20 angled his kick and rolled it out of bounds inside the Canterbury 10 yard-line. The MX defense, having made their needed adjustments, shut down the Canterbury offense and forced a punt. This became one of the key plays of the game as defensive end Julian Farr '20 blocked the punt, knocking it out of bounds at the 3 yard-line. From there, the offense scored right away on a run by tailback Colin Cunningham '20 and with Liam Connor's '22 PAT kick, MX took over the lead 7-6. The MX defense had been making these plays all season, emotionally charging the team and jump starting the offense. Special note has to go to our defense unit - Michael Conde '20, Wes Capitani '20, Nick DeBruin '22, Kevin Ma '22, Peter Sleeper '22, Aaron Peroni '20, and Julian Farr '20 on the line. At linebacker, Joey Belsanti '21, Axel Romell '21, Sahnai Swain-Price '21, Liam Alley '21, and Cole Nye '20, Colin Cunningham '20 and Cedrick Paradis '20 in the secondary-which would shut down the Canterbury offense for the rest of the afternoon.
The MX offense would increase our lead to 14-6 just before halftime on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Cole Cleary '20 to tight end Sahnai Swain-Price '21, who had to run over two Canterbury players to get into the end zone. The second half was dominated by the defenses on both sides. Canterbury's defense made the score a lot closer when they scored on a tipped pass interception, but our defense stepped up to stop the PAT rush attempt to maintain a 14-12 lead. The MX defense also tallied two interceptions in the second half, by linebacker Liam Alley and cornerback Cole Nye, stopping two Canterbury drives. The final score of the day came midway through the fourth quarter and allowed for a little breathing room. Looking for a short first down pass to keep our drive going, quarterback Cole Cleary, who realized the route was covered, scrambled to his right where wide receiver Cole Nye seeing the problem turned his route upfield. Cleary saw Nye's move and launched a beautiful 32-yard strike into the end zone. Connor's kick gave the MX 11 a 21-12 lead, meaning Canterbury would have to score two more times in the last 5 minutes, which MX defense was determined not to let happen. The final score ended up 21-12, the goal was reached and the mission accomplished.
I would be remiss, with backs and receivers getting their names in this write up if I didn't give some press to the guys up front that have done the job for the offense all season (Wes Capitani '20, Kevin Ma '22, Aaron Peroni '20, Nick DeBruin '22, Peter Sleeper '22, Sahnai Swain-Price '21). Cole Cleary ended the day with his eighteenth and nineteenth TD passes of the season and Cole Nye with his ninth TD reception and 3rd game this season with over 100 yards receiving. Special thanks have to go to this senior class, who have weathered some tough times and worked extremely hard over the past four years to bring this football program back to a postseason winner. Thanks to the parents for their help and support and all the fans that have been with us throughout the season. We can't wait to get started on the 2020 Season.