REDDING, Conn. – Joel Barlow High School's football team took a huge step toward reaching the Class M state playoffs Thursday with a 29-22 win over Brookfield High School. And the Falcons used a team effort to do it.
Alex Lockwood and Billy Wilson scored a pair of touchdowns to lead the Falcons (8-1), who can reach the state tournament for the first time with a win over Weston on Thanksgiving Day. But defense, special teams and a standout lacrosse goalie turned quarterback also played huge roles in Thursday’s victory.
“This game concerned me, absolutely,’’ Barlow coach Rob Tynan said. “I’ve been doing this for 21 years. Brookfield is one of the most physical teams in the league, and you know it’s going to be a hard smacking football game. You have to give them credit, because they’re playing for pride. But our kids stepped up and played a big game.”
Lockwood had the game’s defining moment, a 85-yard touchdown gallop in the third quarter. Brookfield rallied after trailing 13-0 to take a 14-13 lead, and it appeared the Falcons might be on the ropes. Lockwood gave momentum back to Barlow with his long run as the Falcons took the lead for good.
“I turned the corner and saw it open up,’’ said Lockwood, who was assisted on the run by a terrific block by John O’Connell. “I knew we needed a big play. It was time to step up.”
Barlow’s defense got Brookfield to go three-and-out on its next two possessions. Wilson, a hard-nosed linebacker who always seems to be around the ball, had four tackles on the night as well. Defensive tackle Christian Huribal (five tackles, one assist), Alex Gallaer and Joshua Tunick were a handful for Brookfield’s offensive line. Gallaer, Huribal and Davis Bigelow had sacks.
Special teams chipped in, too. Scott Colby, who missed two point after kicks and knocked another in off the crossbar, hit a key 30-yard field goal to put Barlow up 23-14 entering the fourth quarter.
After Brookfield scored with 3:07 to play, Andrew Cheal raced over from the middle of the field to cover an onsides kick that was bouncing around. The last thing the Falcons wanted to see was Brookfield return with its offense after moving 58 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Cheal's recovery was a game-saver. Barlow took over and ran out the clock.
Senior Cooper Brown, one of the state’s top lacrosse goalies, directed the Falcons’ attack. He replaced Jack Shaban, who was lost for the year after suffering an injury against Masuk. Brown was only cleared on Tuesday after suffering a concussion several weeks ago. He rushed for 27 yards and completed 2-of-6 passes for 41 yards.
“I thought he did a phenomenal job,’’ Lockwood said. “To come in with very little practice, he did an amazing job.”
Barlow amassed 371 yards rushing for the game, including 68 from Steve Miller. Even without the shifty Shaban at the controls, the Falcons still had more than enough weapons to run over the Bobcats. Now, they get to play their archrival for a state playoff berth. For a team that managed just five wins in the past two seasons, it has been an exciting ride.
“It’s huge for school spirit and everybody,’’ Lockwood said. “Everybody is excited. It’s the first time in a while the football team has been this good.”