New Milford football rides dramatic late rally to beat Danbury

New Milford's Jayden Alfano celebrates after scoring on the winning two-point conversion against Danbury on Friday. New Milford won 29-28.

New Milford’s Jayden Alfano celebrates after scoring on the winning two-point conversion against Danbury on Friday. New Milford won 29-28.

Will Aldam / Hearst Connecticut Media

It has been at least 17 years since New Milford or Danbury took the 12-mile bus ride and strapped on the pads against one another, but on Friday night the two teams were re-familiarized in dramatic fashion.

Trailing by 14 at the start of the fourth quarter, New Milford quarterback Reese Vanek took control.

On the opening drive of the quarter, Vanek broke off a 46-yard rushing touchdown to bring his team within one TD.

After a defensive stop, Vanek used his legs again, this time to scramble out of the pocket to get off a throw right into the arms of Zach Lisee in the end zone.

“We worked hard for this moment and everyone gave it their all,” Vanek said. “Coach helped motivate us and it felt good as a team.”

Still trailing 28-27, New Milford coach Sean Murphy made the gusty call.

“We had a hard time moving the ball all night and I wasn’t sure if we were going to get it back,” Murphy said. “Time was ticking a little bit and I thought ‘Let’s just go for the win; we’re here, let’s do it.’ We got a hell of a push up front.”

Jayden Alfano was handed the ball for the 2-point conversion attempt. After initially being met by a wall of Danbury defenders, the junior launched past the goal line for a 29-28 New Milford lead.

“I saw a team that never gave up,” Murphy said. “In past years I have seen the same situation happen and we folded. These boys don’t fold; they’re different. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Vanek finished the game with two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown after a shaky beginning in which he threw three interceptions, bearing down in the final 12 minutes to lead the Green Wave.

“He had a rough spell there where he threw a couple of picks, but then he led us on two big drives,” Murphy said. “A long run and he threw the game-winning touchdown over there.”

Danbury scored half of its points on turnovers as Brenyn Boswell recovered a fumble and took it to the house in the second quarter and Jayden Leroy broke out for a 95-yard pick-six.

“A loss like this is really tough to swallow, especially when there were so many positives to take away from this game,” Danbury coach Augie Tieri said. “That’s what I choose to focus on when I spoke to the team.”

Despite the loss, Friday night may have marked the breakout game for senior captain Nick Smith, who caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Darnell Bronson and pulled in an interception as well.

“We saw Nick Smith come out and perform the way we expect him to perform,” Tieri said. “He looked like a Division I player tonight. Also for our young quarterback as a freshman to come out and make the throws he made tonight and to run the ball, I was very impressed with him.”

Danbury falls to 1-3 on the season with the one-point nonconference loss.

“I think all around, defensively and offensively, there were a lot of good things,” Tieri said. “We just couldn’t finish today, that was the story of the game for us.”

New Milford improves to 3-1, its best start since 2016. The Green Wave’s lone loss came against No. 5 Newtown, but the schedule will be challenging with Masuk, Amity and Xavier in the coming weeks.

“This is really big for us going forward,” Murphy said. “We know we have a tough stretch after this and we want to build off of this and get ready for the next one.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

New Milford quarterback Reese Vanek has led his team to the best start since 2016 with a clutch fourth-quarter performance, rushing for a 46-yard touchdown and throwing a touchdown on the run to complete the comeback with 2:46 remaining in the game.

Will.Aldam@hearstmediact.com; @AldamWill

NEW MILFORD 29, Danbury 28

Danbury 8 6 14 0 — 28

NEW MILFORD 7 7 0 15 — 29

N — Jeremy Santos 22 yd td pass from Reese Vanek (Balzi Kick) 7-0

D — Nick Smith 45 yard TD pass from Darnell Bronson (2 PT Good) 8-7

D — Brenyn Boswell fumble return TD (2 PT Failed) 14-7

N — Jemail Elezi 3 yd td run (Balzi Kick) 14-14

D — Nick Smith 53 yd td pass from Darnell Bronson (2 PT Good) 22-14

D — Jayden Leroy 95 Yard Interception Return (2 PT Failed) 28-14

N — Reese Vanek 46 yd td run (Balzi Kick) 28-21

N — Zach Lisee 30 yd td pass from Vanek (2 PT Good) 29-28