Ledyard - The Norwich Free Academy offense did a number of good things during Friday night's 39-14 thumping of Ledyard.
The Wildcats, for instance, ran up-and-down Bill Mignault Field 43 times for 328 yards and six touchdowns.
But for all of NFA's gaudy offensive numbers, it was its defense and special teams that made the win possible. The Wildcats (4-0) converted three turnovers into touchdowns, two of which came on special teams.
"We're committed to special teams," NFA coach Jemal Davis said. "And we do that every single day. We spend about 30, 35 minutes on it, and it really pays off."
The Wildcats led 13-7 with over five minutes left in the first half when Ledyard finally forced them to go 3-and-out. NFA had to punt from its own 20.
The Colonels' JoJo Shumaker mishandled the return, however, and NFA's Chris Johnson recovered the ball at the Ledyard 44.
Six plays later, Wildcats quarterback Joey Paparelli ran for a 2-yard touchdown, upping the lead to 19-7.
"We've been doing some things the special teams that are awesome," Davis said.
"Turnovers were a killer," Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore said after the Colonels fell to 2-2. "Obviously (it's been), a big difference for us this year in terms of our success versus last year and our success this year. I don't think we turned the ball over three times all last year. Certainly, it didn't help tonight.
"I think we had the momentum, and we fumbled the punt and things change."
Marcus Outlow ran 12 times for a game-high 171 yards and three touchdowns for NFA, Paparelli had 17 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns and Khaleed Exum-Strong added 13 carries for 78 yards and a TD.
The Wildcats' defense was able to stymie Ledyard's rushing attack for the majority of the game. The Colonels had 39 carries for 97 yards.
"They have a strong running team," NFA linebacker Anthony Gomes said. "They have a lot of running backs. We've got a lot of players on defense, and we were able to outplay them today."
Ledyard's Darnay Gray had 17 carries for a team-high 81 yards.
Wildcats linebacker Steven Makowicki gave his team a jolt when he blocked a punt on just the fourth play of the game. NFA took over at the Colonels' 34 and scored right away on an Outlow reverse.
Later in the first quarter, an errant snap to Paparelli was recovered by Ledyard's Benjamin Morales at the NFA 16.
The Colonels capitalized as John Rainey scored on a 3-yard run giving his team a 7-6 lead with over three minutes left in the quarter.
The Wildcats wasted no time responding as they drove 77 yards for a touchdown on just six plays. Paparelli scored on a 10-yard run as NFA went ahead, 13-7, with over a minute left in the quarter.
Outlow had runs of 30 and 23 yards on that drive.
The Wildcats' defense struck a big blow early in the second quarter. Linebacker Calvin Green blitzed and ran into Rainey, jarring the ball loose.
Gomes recovered the ball at the Ledyard 27. Outlow scored on the next play, again on a reverse, to push NFA's lead to 25-7.
"The defense was huge," Outlow said. "We believe games are won with defense. Offenses score, but it's just about the heart of (our) defense."