FOOTBALL: Arce returns; Spartans stave off Simsbury

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MERIDEN — Joziah Gonzalez grabbed two of Angel Arce’s three touchdown passes and the Maloney defense remained stout as the Spartans improved to 2-1 with a 21-14 victory over Simsbury on Friday night at Falcon Field.

Maloney held a 14-7 advantage at the half in the CCC Tier I contest behind two TD passes from Arce.

The senior signal caller connected with Gonzalez (3 catches, 83 yards) on a fourth-and-8 from the Simsbury 24 for touchdown with 2:40 left in the first quarter. Joshua Scaramuzzo booted through the extra point as the host Spartans went up 7-0.

Later, it was Gonzalez’s nine-yard run on third down that allowed the Spartans to run out the clock in the in the fourth quarter.

Arce, who missed last week’s win over Conard due to a concussion, snapped a 7-7 tie with a TD pass to Tylee Flowers, this one also from 24 yards, and it came with 35.7 seconds left in the first half. 

That ended a 10-play drive that included a big fourth-and-10 conversion from the Simsbury 43. On that play, Arce found an open Austin Studley for 19 yards. Maloney scored two plays later.

Arce finished the night 12 for-20 for 173 yards, 3 TDs and a pick. 

Simsbury’s lone TD of the first half was sparked by its defense. John Mairano intercepted an Arce pass at the 11:01 mark of the second quarter. Three plays later, the senior running back (20 carries, 77 yards) plunged into the end zone for a 2-yard TD with 9:28 left in the half.

Simsbury kicker Daniel Sullivan attempted a 51-yard field goal at the halftime buzzer that fell short.

Simsbury tied the game on its first drive of the second half. The Trojans marched 11 plays for 54 yards to tie the contest 14-14 with 5:37 to go in the third quarter.

Tight end Isaac Rivera grabbed a shovel pass from Evan Wallace (7-for-14, 105) for a 5-yard score. Rivera nabbed three passes on the drive for 30 yards.

Maloney responded with a 9-play, 82-yard scoring drive that delivered the game-winner on Arce’s third TD pass of the game. A wide-open Gonzalez snared a 28-yarder with 2:16 left in the third to put the Spartans up 21-14. 

“The defensive backs were biting on the hitches,” Rodriguez said. “It was a good play call. The post was open and everything was open.”

Maloney’s Josh Boganski had five carries for 31 yards on the drive and 17 carries for 150 yards in the game.

Simsbury was driving in a bid for another tying score, but was thwarted by an end zone interception by Maloney DB Rashawn Shelton. It was one of the biggest plays of the game.

“He’s a play-maker for us,” Maloney coach Kevin Frederick said of Shelton. “He’s a guy who goes to get it and he’s competitive and plays with great passion and that was a huge turnover. I was happy for him to play it so well.”

Maloney then turned the field position with a 66-yard scamper by Boganski to inside the Simsbury 10. The Maloney drive was bogged down by a sack by Andrew Hunter and then an incomplete pass with 10:17 left in the fourth.

Another late Maloney drive was snuffed out on a sack by Zachary Truting with just under six minutes to go.

Simsbury’s last drive carried the visitors all the way to the Maloney 25, but a pair of sacks sealed the deal. Kenny McMillan had the big hit on fourth down with 3:27 left in the game. 

Rafael Rodriguez and Daejon Nixon combined for a sack on Simsbury earlier in the drive.

From there, the Spartans were able to run the clock out with big third-down runs by Ian Graham and Rodriguez.

“I was just running downhill,” Rodriguez said. “I was cutting it up the field for the first time. Credit to the linemen; you can’t run it without the linemen.”

Graham had 5 catches for 32 yards. Kuron Wiggins had two grabs for 52 yards. 

“It wasn’t pretty for us,” Frederick said. “I thought we were inconsistent on offense. We looked good in certain points, but overall our defense was solid again. I’m so proud of the D. They bent but didn’t break.

“We are happy to get the win, but we haven’t played our best football yet.”

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