WALLINGFORD — Scoring a field goal in the final five seconds of the 50th Samaha Bowl, Lyman Hall High School carried its powder puff football winning streak into a sixth year.
Trojans coach Edmond Neilander said he was stunned by how close the win was, thinking the game would have to go into overtime right up until the final moments. Mark T. Sheehan High School was tied with Lyman Hall at 31 points for most of the final eight minutes of the game until running back Shi Reeves was able to kick the field goal that gave Lyman Hall the edge. The final score was 34 to 31.
Reeves said she felt prepared coming into the game, but there was still nervousness mixed with her excitement coming onto the field. The game’s intensity lived up to its legacy as the 50th in a line of Samaha Bowls going back to 1972, when it was started by Judy Samaha, who was then Sheehan’s athletic director.
“I think this was the best game played personally, just because of how close it was and how back and forth with them being up for a play and then we’re up. So it was really entertaining and nerve-racking as a player,” Reeves said.
The intensity of those last few moments encapsulated how tight the game was from its start, with the ball regularly being turned over to the other team and both defensive lines bogging their opponents down. Most of the successful touchdowns were scored when players managed to break through the line and use their speed to make long reaching runs across the field.
“Sometimes it’s luck and sometimes it’s a little bit of skill, but we had a little bit of skill and a lot of luck, because Sheehan was a very tough team,” Neilander said.
The speed of Sheehan Titans like running back Patrice Mansfield, who scored a 67 yard touchdown in the second quarter, was Lyman Hall’s biggest challenge, Neilander said. He credits the Trojans’ win to their organization and putting players precisely where they needed to be for plays to come through.
“We knew that they were stronger than us and faster than us, so we had to come up with other things, you know more finesse,” Neilander said. “But we had some nice inside runs and a little bit of finesse and a lot of hard work.”
Sheehan coach Cheryl Colwick said both teams kept at it for the whole game, with her players even making a whole-hearted push to try and score a touchdown in the last three seconds of the game. The Titans’ kick return fell short of the end zone as time expired.
“Twenty-eight years I’ve been coaching and that was one of the best games — back-and-forth, back-and-forth — I’ve ever seen. So I’m extremely proud of these girls,” she said.
With almost 4,000 fans in the stands, Colwick said the 50th anniversary would’ve made Samaha proud. She died in July 2020 and was recognized at the opening ceremony, which included her family and Nick Economopoulos, who coached Lyman Hall’s first powder puff team.Alumni march
Along with the choreographed halftime shows put on by both team’s cheerleaders, alumni from past Samaha Bowl games marched around the field behind banners with the decades they played in, going back to the 1970s. Many of those women also performed in an alumni game last Saturday and a cocktail reunion was held the evening prior.
Colwick, who was on the organizing committee for the 50th anniversary events, said the size of the crowd Wednesday and the connection alumni continue to have decades after playing shows how important the game is for the seniors who play in it.
“It’s just such a memorable activity, so these kids, these families want to come back and they want to experience it again,” she said.
Alumni Cheryl Gill said she was blown away by the number of alumni who participated in the halftime march. She said the Samaha Bowl is usually the second largest gathering in Wallingford after the Fourth of July.
“It’s about bragging rights in town. I think this game means more than the boys’ (football game) in town,” she said, referring to the Thanksgiving Day game between the two boys’ football teams.
Trojans player Kaleigh McCann said many of those alumni attended their practices to share advice and their presence on Wednesday gave energy to the game. Seeing their continued dedication to the game made her optimistic that all the friends she’s made in the 10 weeks of practice will evolve into lifelong friendships.
“It’s super exciting, because it makes me feel like I can be friends with these girls that are basically my family now and can be friends after this,” she said.