The annual Thanksgiving Day game has traditionally marked the end of the season for both the Weston and Joel Barlow High football teams as well as bragging rights between the two South-West Conference rivals. Something else was also at stake in this year’s contest.
The winner would clinch a spot in the state Class M playoffs. Coming up with big plays when they needed to, the Trojans held off Barlow 21-14 on its home field on Thursday, Nov. 22 for the win and a spot in the tournament.
The win was Weston’s third straight win the annual contest It now leads the series 8-5-4.
“It feels amazing,” said Weston head coach Joe Lato. “I am so happy for our seniors, I am so happy for our kids, the lesson that the hard work pays off, because they worked really hard to put themselves in these uniforms, and they deserve it. They wanted to keep this thing going, and they did.”
Weston went three and out its first possession but Barlow had the same result on its first two series. Strong Weston defense featured Austin Gomar coming up with a sack on each to help stop the Falcons.
A Barlow punt went out of bounds on its own 24 yard line, giving the Trojans good field position. The visitors took advantage of the situation with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Hassett to Justin Schaffer, making it 7-0 after Zach Cannon kicked the extra point with 5:06 left in the first quarter.
Barlow did respond in the second quarter on a halfback pass from Alex Lockwood to John O’Connell. Scott Colby kicked the extra point, making it 7-7 with 11:53 left in the half.
The two teams would exchange possessions until Weston started in Joel Barlow territory again on the 35 to set up a 65-yard scoring drive. This time it was on a three-yard run by Schaffer. Although Weston missed the extra point it still led 13-7 with 5:52 left in the half.
Gomar’s tackle on third down on the following Barlow possession resulted in a loss of nine yards. Neither team could score again before halftime.
Weston came up short on its opening drive at the start of the second half and Barlow was making some solid plays but fumbled. An interception in the end zone by Barlow’s Andrew Bindelglass got the ball back for his team but the hosts fumbled again.
This time the Trojans took advantage of the situation. Faced with a fourth and goal situation on the Barlow 12 yard line, Hassett found Schaffer, who jumped and caught the ball and maintained possession all the way to the ground in the back left corner of the end zone.
“That kid is so good and so reliable, and it was drawn up for him,” said Hassett. “It was an all or nothing deal.” Hassett hit Zach Cannon with a pass for the two-point conversion, making it 21-7 with 3:01 left in the third quarter.
Down by two touchdowns, Barlow answered right back when quarterback Cooper Brown hit Ian Carman with a five-yard pass for a score and Colby hit the extra point to make it 21-14 with 8:28 left in the game. A successful onside kick got the ball back.
Weston held up and did not let the Falcons score again but it was nearly a a tie game when Alex Lockwood returned a Weston punt for a touchdown that was called back due to a penalty.
Weston stopped the Falcons on fourth down a few times and sealed the victory with about a minute left in the game.
“I thought we played excellent defense, and we kind of got into a rhythm in the second half there, and we held on and got out of here with a win.” said Lato
Note: Both Barlow and Weston finished with 8-2 regular-season records but Weston took the sixth seed in the eight-team playoffs with 113 power points. Barlow finished with 109, two points behind eight-seeded Montivlle. The win also gave Weston its first appearance in a football state playoff game since 1989 when it lost to Ansonia in the Class S championship.