Published November 11. 2012 4:00AM
Norwich - Waterford High School matched Norwich Free Academy's physicality until eventually wearing down against the Wildcats' platoon system in the fourth quarter.
NFA's skill-position players? Waterford was no match for them.
So despite outgaining NFA in the first half (180-166), running 23 more offensive plays (39-16) and springing tailback Bishme Sheppard loose for 106 rushing yards (he finished with 127 on 33 carries), the Lancers still trailed 13-0.
And when the Wildcats needed just five plays to score on their opening drive of the second half - a 16-yard touchdown run by Marcus Outlow - NFA's football team had survived Waterford's best shot and would remain unbeaten with a 27-0 victory Saturday over the Lancers.
The Wildcats (9-0) got an added bonus, clinching a Class LL playoff spot following weekend losses by Fairfield Prep and Hartford Public. NFA can now turn its attention to a Thanksgiving morning road trip to rival New London.
And the Wildcats do so knowing that, even nine games into the season, a few new wrinkles can be added in order to make them more dangerous come playoff time.
"Our goal was to see where we are in different aspects of the game," NFA coach Jemal Davis said. "We tried to do some things a little bit differently in terms of tempo - and for our kids we knew it was going to throw them off - but they responded well."
One of those changes was the option, which quarterback Joey Paparelli (11 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD) ran well.
"It's something that we haven't done a lot during the season," Davis said, "but it's something that's going to help us a lot down the road."
To arrive at 9-0, NFA had to take Waterford's best shot early. The Lancers (3-6) took their opening drive all the way to the NFA 7, converting a double-reverse pass from Kyle Willoughby to Griffen Archambault for 26 yards on a fourth-and-five call and eating up more than seven minutes of the first quarter.
But Waterford couldn't cash in, missing a 25-yard field goal. The Lancers also turned the ball over at the NFA 29 on their next possession, and this time the Wildcats capitalized by driving 71 yards to take a 6-0 lead with 8:41 left in the half on a 1-yard sneak by Paparelli.
"The (double-reverse pass) worked," Waterford coach Mike Ellis said. "It was a great job by Archambault coming back and making an adjustment on the ball to catch it. It's too bad it wasn't a better (throw) because it's a touchdown, and against a team like this you have to hit those.
"It was a missed opportunity but at least it set the tone for the game ... that we weren't going to back down, we were going to play and we were going to bring everything we had in the basket at them."
Waterford tried everything to keep the NFA offense off the field - including a fake punt with five minutes left in the first half. But when Seth Hoagland was stopped two yards shy of a first down at the NFA 46, the dangerous Outlow carried 40 yards on an option on the next play and scored one play later from 14 yards out to make it 13-0.
Outlow finished with 156 yards on 13 carries and scored twice. After his second TD on the first series of the second half, NFA added an insurance touchdown with 5:38 remaining on a 3-yard run by Tannor Fontaine.