GUILFORD — History was made at Kavanaugh Field on Friday night.
For the first time in the 20-year history of the Southern Connecticut Conference, Guilford won an outright division title in football, capturing the Division II West title with a 35-20 victory over Hillhouse.
Guilford (4-0 in the division and 5-4 overall) had shared the division crown with Hillhouse back in 1999, which ironically was the last time the Indians beat the Academics.
“It’s the culmination of a lot of work and time put in by these players,” said Guilford coach Tom Unger, in his sixth year at the helm. “When you don’t beat a team since 1999 and don’t win a division title and you get down on yourselves. Confidence is one of the big things we have to keep increasing, but wins like this give us confidence going forward.”
Guilford raced out to a 21-0 lead by halftime. David Knapp had a 5-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and then Eric Zergiebel scampered 6 yards for another score on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-0.
Then with 24 seconds remaining before the break, Guilford quarterback Joe Nault (5-of-8 passing for 95 yards and 55 yards rushing) connected with a diving Tony Pensa in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0.
“We practiced against everything they ran, but we just didn’t execute,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said. “It was just straight up blocking on offense and defense and they pushed our guys around.”
When Knapp suffered a leg injury late in the first half, Guilford was forced to move fullback Zergiebel to tailback. But Zergiebel took advantage of the opportunity and carried the ball 28 times for 112 yards.
“We moved him from fullback to tailback when it happened,” Unger said. “We had given him reps at tailback in practice so we could give Knapp a breather.”
Harold Cooper managed to get in the end zone with a 1-yard run in the third quarter as Hillhouse, which had scored just six points in its last 11 quarters of play to that point, finally got on the board.
Nault and Pensa then connected again on a 15-yard pass play for a touchdown just over 2 minutes later to make it 28-6.
But Hillhouse scored on its first play from scrimmage after that as Cooper ran for a 75-yard touchdown and then added a 3-yard run to get the Academics within 28-20 with 10:52 remaining to play.
Nault collected an insurance 1-yard touchdown with 3:28 to play to account for the final scoring.
Except for the 75-yard touchdown run, Guilford kept Cooper in check. Cooper, who needs just 54 more yards to pass Nathan Pagan of Newington (6,262 yards) to move into fourth place on the state’s all-time rushing list, had 95 yards rushing Friday night.
“We watched film and you want to do a good job of packing the box against them,” Unger said. “We played with a four-man front to try and keep their offensive linemen off our linebackers.”
Hillhouse fell to 3-6 with the loss.
“That’s not up to our standards, but we lost a lot of key starters from last year,” Lytle said. “Right now, everyone focuses on Coop and we need to find someone to give him help.”