NORTH HAVEN >> North Haven does not have an identity crisis. The Indians know exactly who they are.
While many teams prefer to run the spread formation, North Haven opts to operate out of a clock-chewing single-wing attack that relies on discipline and patience.
“When I watch us on film, when I watch our offense, I can bore myself to sleep,” North Haven senior running back Ethan Suraci said with a smile. “It’s very rudimentary play.”
The Indians’ offense may not be fancy, but it has certainly been effective. The Indians have rushed for 3,723 yards and 49 touchdowns this season.
Suraci leads the team with 145 carries for 1,003 yards and 21 touchdowns, but 11 other players have carried the ball this year for North Haven, which is averaging 36 points per game.
“The team is the star, I say that every time I talk to someone,” North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said. “We don’t have a great player. We have some very good players and, when they’re on, we’re a pretty good team. That’s a credit to the senior class and to the whole group of them.”
The Indians finished the regular season 9-2 and earned the seventh seed in the Class L state tournament. North Haven will visit No. 2 Platt (11-0) in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at Falcon Field in Meriden.
The Indians return to the postseason after a one-year absence, and for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
“Not making it to the playoffs last year kind of stunk, just not having anything to do after Thanksgiving,” North Haven senior quarterback/linebacker Mike Halloran said. “To be able to come back here and play after Thanksgiving feels real good.”
The Indians have succeeded this season despite being undersized and lacking the pure talent most opponents possess. North Haven is faced with a similar situation against Platt, a team with a big offensive line and quick and athletic skill players.
“I think we’re a very tough team,” Halloran said. “We tackle well, we block well, we run well, and I think that’s what we hold ourselves to.”
The Panthers will certainly test the North Haven defense. Platt features a dual-threat quarterback in senior Andrew McBride and one of the state’s best running backs in junior Tyzhan Leatherwood. Senior Creme Watford and junior Olajuwon McLeod are a formidable pair of receivers.
“They stress you all over the field,” Sagnella said. “Whenever their athletes have the ball in their hands, we’re going to have to be in the proper positions, the proper pursuit angles, etc., to make sure we’re getting off blocks and hustling to the ball.”
Although the Indians are in pursuit of the program’s first playoff victory, Halloran said the team is preparing just the same as during the previous 11 games.
“It’s like any other week,” Halloran said. “It’s not the playoffs, it’s Week 12. We just have to go in and see what we can do this week. It’s just one game. If we win, we keep going. I think with hard work and determination we can go as far as we can take ourselves. If we play the best that we can play, I’m confident that we can do something in the playoffs.”
While the Indians’ running attack can be frustrating to defend, North Haven’s lack of a consistent passing game proved costly in losses to fellow Class L participants Hand and Darien during the regular season. The Indians trailed in both games in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a problem, it certainly is,” Sagnella said. “But you have to dance with who brought you. Our kids have embraced our philosophy, but we have to keep a game within our reach. We have to be close going into the fourth quarter because we don’t have the quick-score capability. That’s part of who we are. The kids have been focusing on being disciplined, being fundamentally sound and working well as a team. That’s what kept us in every game this year.”