WEST HARTFORD -- Noel Thomas the football coach shook his head and frowned when his St. Luke's team allowed a touchdown with no time remaining, leaving Hyde School only a two-point conversion away from sending the game into overtime. But then Noel Thomas the man nodded and clapped his hands.
If the Storm were going to win this season-ending, NEPSAC Dan Rorke Bowl game, they were going to have to do it the hard way ... just the way Thomas likes it.
"This was the perfect lesson for them," the first-year coach explained. "The game had its ups and downs, just like life. It wasn't easy. It was tough, just like life."
It would've been even tougher if Thomas had not had his son, Noel Thomas Jr., on his side. Thomas Jr. had 163 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, and his 2-point conversion pass to TJ Simpson out of the Wildcat with four minutes remaining proved decisive. Thomas Jr., who earned a football scholarship to UConn next fall, finished his senior season with 1,206 yards in nine games.
"I've been watching Junior do this since he was a little guy," Thomas Sr. said. "I loved coaching him but I am really looking forward to just being a fan in the future."
Father leaned on son often during St. Luke's critical drive that began with eight minutes remaining and the score tied at 20. Thomas Jr. touched the ball on five of eight plays during the drive -- six of nine if you count the critical two-point conversion.
"I knew I'd get a lot of touches and I did everything I could to help us out," said Thomas Jr., who had four carries for 39 yards and one pass incompletion during the 60-yard drive. "What an unbelievable feeling. Our goal from Day 1 was to play in this bowl game and win and we got it done."
Quarterback Charlie Nelson ran for two touchdowns and receiver Blake Stroman had two huge receptions for 47 yards in the final 13 minutes. The defense was led by Sam Drews while Andrew Sudano assisted on Wood's play on the final two-pointer.
It appeared Watkins, running around right end, was headed into the end zone on the two-point attempt, and the Kansas City Tiebreaker would have to decide the contest. But just as Watkins neared the goal line, he hit a wall named Wood.
"That wall was me," Wood said. "As soon as the ball was snapped I knew the play was coming to my side. I knew I had to get there and one foot from the goal line I did."
Freshman Dolan Gregorich, meanwhile, blocked the extra point that would've given Hyde a 21-20 lead with 8:09 left to play.
The defensive effort really pleased the coach as Hyde owned a huge size advantage. Watkins led Hyde (7-2) with 138 yards rushing and two TDs and fullback/quarterback Daniel Palmer rushed for 99 yards and passed for 48, all on the game's final drive when the Wolfpack went the final 48 yards in 28 seconds.
"The key on defense was our mental toughness," Thomas Sr. said. "I tell them that if they do it together, they can overcome any obstacle Whatever else happens before they leave here, I know they can take that with them."
St. Luke's 28, Hyde 26
HYDE 0 7 7 12--26
ST. LUKE'S 0 0 14 6 8--28
SL--Noel Thomas, 1 run (Peter Baritz kick)
H--Jay Watkins, 1 run (Ben Krassner kick)
SL--Charlie Nelson, 1 run (Baritz kick)
H--Daniel Palmer, 8 run (Baritz kick)
SL--Thomas, 10 run (kick failed)
H--Watkins, 3 run (kick blocked)
SL--Nelson, 1 run (TJ Simpson pass from Thomas)
H--Tyquan Ekejiuba, 17 pass from Palmer (run failed)
Records: Hyde 7-2, St. Luke's 8-1.