NORTH HAVEN >> West Haven coach Rich Boshea was worried about his team as the season opener approached. Facing a talented North Haven team, Boshea knew the success of his defense would be the key if the Westies were going to come away with a victory.
Boshea got his wish.
Forcing five turnovers, and using four of those turnovers to lead to scores, West Haven topped North Haven 33-27 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Division I contest at Vanacore Field in North Haven Friday evening.
“It has been a long time since we can say the West Haven defense won us a game,” Boshea said. “We can say that tonight. Coach (Tom) Unger put together a great game plan. They (North Haven) have a very good offense. We work on a lot of turnover drills and they paid off tonight.”
The Westies forced three fumbles and also picked off a pair of North Haven passes, with Joe Steinman returning an interception 37 yards for a score, and Douglas Johnson scooping up a fumble and racing 50 yards for another score.
“Our defense played excellent tonight,” Kyle Godfrey said after finishing with a fumble recovery, interception, touchdown run, and two-point conversion. “We knew if we were going to win this game, we were going to have to step up our defense. We practiced that offense for three weeks. We knew if everyone read their keys, we would be okay. We did a great job of that.”
Leading 19-7 to start the third quarter, West Haven saw Godfrey strip a ball loose from North Haven, then turned the turnover into a 3-yard touchdown run by Godfrey for a 25-7 lead four minutes into the second half.
After Zack Orth scored to get the Indians within 25-13, North Haven had momentum and was driving again. Johnson turned the game around when he took advantage of a poor North Haven exchange and picked up a loose ball and returned it for a 50-yard fumble recovery and touchdown.
“You can’t make that many mistakes against a good football team like that,” North Haven coach Tony Sagnella said after his team held a 293-153 advantage in yards. “One of our goals tonight with an inexperienced team was to see them play hard all night. I thought we did that. We just made too many mistakes.”
The Indians used a 57-yard touchdown run by Mark Montano, and a 10-yard touchdown pass from Shamus Meehan to Montano in the final minute, but it was not enough.
“I thought our defense played exceptional tonight, but the score does not show that,” Sagnella said. “We can repair those mistakes.”
After a slow start, which saw the Indians score on their first possession of the game when Montano hit Korbin Pecora with a 26-yard touchdown pass, the Westies rolled off the next 19 points in the opening half.
Needing a spark, the Westies turned to some familiar faces and their defense to turn the tide of the contest. On his first carry, senior Chris Chance dodged a tackle, then scampered 30 yards for the game-tying touchdown with 57 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The West Haven defense did the rest in the next 13 minutes. The Indians, who gained 62 yards on their opening drive, were held to just 12 yards of total offense the rest of the opening half.
In the process, West Haven turned two interceptions and a fumble recovery into 12 more points and a 19-7 lead in the final five minutes of the half.
Godfrey intercepted Montano and returned the pick inside the Indians five-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Jake Conlan found Nikolas Camara for a 4-yard touchdown and a 13-7 lead on fourth down. The extra point was blocked.
“We told the kids, no matter what, we needed to come out of here 1-0,” Boshea said. “We did that. I don’t care how it was done, we were able to come out of here with the win.”
After stopping the Indians with a fumble recovery, West Haven capitalized again in the final two minutes when Steinman picked off Montano at the North Haven 37-yard line. Following his blocks, Steinman raced for the score and a 19-7 advantage with 59 seconds left in the opening half.
WEST HAVEN 33, NORTH HAVEN 27
WH 7 12 6 8 – 33
NH 7 0 6 14 – 27
N- Mark Montano 26 pass to Korbin Pecora (Chase DiCarlo kick) 5:33
W – Chris Chance 30 run (Jake Conlan kick) 0:57
W – Jake Conlan to Nikolas Camara 4 yard pass (Kick blocked) 4:34
W – Joe Steinman 37 interception return (Pass failed) 0:59
W – Kyle Godfrey 3 run (Pass failed) 8:00
N – Zack Orth 1 run (Run failed) 1:29
W – Doug Johnson 50 fumble recovery (Conlan to Godfrey pass) 8:38
N – Montano 57 run (DiCarlo kick)
N – Shamus Meehan to Montano 10 yard pass (DiCarlo kick) 0:40