Ray Curren’s Inside the SCC: Hard work pays dividends for East Haven

If we are to believe the oral traditions, it was approximately 2,600 years ago that a former Greek slave named Aesop starting spinning tales of morality. If he was not the original, Aesop was fortunate enough to have his name tied to them as they trickled down through the generations, eventually making their way to parchment.

Once our buddy Johannes Gutenberg came along two millennia later and found a way to get movable type to rock and roll, it became easy to make copies and distribute them through the world, in whatever language you wished. Unfortunately (from my chair), the violent nature of some of the fables means they aren’t presented to many youngsters these days, but the lessons still resonate today in many ways.

We’re not sure if the East Haven football team or new head coach Anthony Lucibello knew much about “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, one of the most famous Aesop stories, when they began to prepare for the 2013 season. The Yellowjackets were 5-56 over the last six seasons, hadn’t won more than two games in a season in that span, and hadn’t posted a winning record since 2000 (when most of the current players were just climbing out of their diapers), one of only two times the Easties finished above .500 in the 20-year history of the SCC.

Aesop’s narrative begins in the hot summer with the grasshopper trying to convince the ant to stop toiling gathering food that he surely wouldn’t need for months and to join him enjoying the beautiful weather. It ends, somewhat predictably, with the grasshopper starving to death while the ants had enough food to make it through the winter thanks to their hard work months earlier in the uncomfortable weather.

As an employee of East Haven schools, I was able to see a lot of the work the Yellowjackets (which are just flying ants with stingers, no?) were putting in as the temperature climbed, on the field running and in the weight room every day after school. In July, conditioning sessions for the soccer team were scheduled at what seemed like the ambitious hour of 7 a.m. The football team was out there 90 minutes earlier.

And not just present, but there in numbers, working hard every day.

That’s great, but surely those 40-50 kids would dwindle to half of that after a couple of weeks. That record, remember? Who wants to go through this crap at the crack of dawn for that? How much easier it would be to turn that alarm clock off, especially in the summer, the most precious of times to stay up past midnight and text or Tweet with your peers?

But, amazingly, they kept coming, and as East Haven took the field Friday night against Bassick, the Yellowjackets were 50 strong. Down 28-8 midway through the third quarter, things looked bad for the Ants, but while the scoreboard was discouraging, their legs were just fine. Bassick players started to go down with cramps, others were hobbling, and the score was 28-16.

As the Lions started to go from tired to exhausted, the Ants sensed the battle could be theirs. They scored again with 7 minutes, 49 seconds left to make it 28-24, and although the scoreboard said it still had the lead, Bassick was toast. They were not only physically, but mentally exhausted. Vochan Fowler, who had run for three touchdowns, suddenly saw a swarm of Ants in front of him on every play, and even when he did have room didn’t quite have the burst to outrun them. A snap sailed over the head of their punter, and East Haven had the lead for good a play later.

Ants 38, Lions 28 final. Thirty unanswered points in the final 17:46 of the contest, a shocking comeback to most, who know about the record of the past. After all, after winning its opener last season, East Haven scored a total of 30 points the rest of the season, let alone a quarter and a half.

But, if they had been at East Haven High at 5:30 a.m. on a steamy July morning, they would have understood, as Aesop did in Ancient Greece, that preparing for the future through hard work in the present does indeed pay dividends, a life lesson

Of course, it’s not always that simple or tangible in an immediate sense.

I spent the second half of the game on the Bassick side because they’re coached by old friend Derrick Lewis, now in his third year at the helm. He’s an SCC guy at heart, starring for West Haven (assistant Desmond Lymon played for the 2002 Blue Devil Class LL champs) in the early days of the conference. He went on to UConn briefly before starring at Southern Connecticut.

Lewis, at 6-foot-4 and more than 300 pounds, clearly won the hug he gave me as the second half was about to commence. But aside from some kidding with the New Haven County officials, (West Haven Parks and Rec Director Bill Slater happened to be the linesman on the Bassick side, and when Lewis was told not to go so far on the field, Lewis quipped: “C’mon, you guys let McCarthy stay out here the whole game and don’t say anything.”) Lewis’ mood quickly soured as his team’s lead disintegrated and he stared his 20th defeat in 21 games at the helm of Bassick in the face.

But afterward, he was philosophical. He knows that progress has been made on the field in the last couple of seasons, even though it hasn’t been immediately clear in the win column. He would like to have more numbers (he had about 25 varsity players dressed), but Lewis understands the limitations that some the families of his players have.

Some need to work, some need to be home after school to watch siblings, things that come before football. As he does every Friday night during the season, he told his team, “We’ll see you Monday after school.” Because of security concerns, they aren’t allowed to practice on weekends.

Most importantly, though, Lewis understands the big picture of where he wants his players to be as men in a few years.

“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t finish this game off,” Lewis said. “We need to learn that the work we put in in practice will directly show on the field. But it’s tough for some of our kids. A lot of them are forced to grow up way too fast, some of them are the men of their households, and they have to worry about a lot besides school, let alone football. Hopefully this is a good lesson for us and we can build on it going forward.”

Of course, it’s not always that easy. Results are not always immediate in football or in life. Sometimes the final goal is never fully achieved. But more often than not, over the long haul, as they did in the Ancient Greek League, the Ants go further than the Grasshoppers.

 FCIAC WINS INAUGURAL CHALLENGE:

In a week that was hampered by weather issues (heat on Wednesday and lightning on Thursday), the SCC looked like it was ready to capture at least nine of the 17 games against their Fairfield County rivals, but the FCIAC captured all three games on Sunday.

Perhaps the most painful loss of the weekend came from West Haven, which had already been hurt by turnovers on Thursday, but still managed to have a 13-7 lead and the ball in Greenwich territory when lightning postponed matters late in the third quarter for three days. (Many games were moved past Friday because of Yom Kippur, which began Friday at sundown). Greenwich held and West Haven decided to attempt a rare field goal, which backfired when the Cardinals blocked it and returned it the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown.

My memory is not perfect, but I can’t remember the last time a West Haven team attempted a field goal in a game.

The Westies recovered to grab the lead, but took a safety (up seven?) and Greenwich stole it late when Austin Longi’s 1-yard run with 31 seconds left gave them a 22-21 win, the first time the teams met since the 2002 Class LL championship game, won by the Blue Devils. Obviously one loss is not fatal, but with the SCC Division I schedule to come, it doesn’t help. And it might take a little while for the sting of that one to dissipate.

In all, six games were played over multiple days, including a comical Shelton-Trumbull scenario which saw the Gaels lead 49-0 when the game was called at halftime. In a credit to perseverance, if not common sense, the game was finished the next afternoon, when the Gaels held it to a 57-20 final.

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, I am always anti-cancelling events before actual weather arrives (short of hurricanes or blizzards), but moving games off of Thursday night turned out to certainly be the correct call for athletic directors. It won’t be the last of weather talk this season, but we can only hope it’s the last time we have to worry about games being played over multiple days in 2013.

EXTRA POINTS

It took an extra day, but North Haven’s Sabrina Fronte did indeed become the first girl in SCC football history Friday against Bridgeport Central, hitting all six of her extra points as the Indians were impressive in a 42-8 rout… Lucibello wasn’t the only coach to start his SCC tenure with a win, Hamden’s Todd Dowty — appointed just two weeks ago — is undefeated in his head coaching career after the Dragons stopped Danbury 26-10. They host East Haven (and former assistant Lucibello) Friday, meaning one of them will start 2-0, and I’m told that is better than being 0-2. I’ll try to confirm… A close second to West Haven’s heartbreaking loss was Guilford’s 21-20 loss to Wilton, leaving the Indians at 0-1 and facing a trip to Shelton Friday. Tough to get healthy there… Hand and Hillhouse, both state champions a year ago, were on the wrong end of lopsided scores, particularly the Tigers, as New Canaan could care less about their 26-game winning streak, leading at one point 50-7 before it ended 50-21. Oh, by the way, they play each other, too, this week, meaning obviously one of them will be 0-2… Xavier was forced to battle against Staples before prevailing 30-22, setting up their showdown at North Haven this week… In addition to the 17 games against the FCIAC, the SCC had a pair of games against the NVL and split them, Amity beating Seymour and Woodland routing Branford… First reported by the Register’s Mike Pucci, in the oddest of twists, and mostly just to torture us who still can’t figure out who is in what division, every team in Division I East and Division II West lost, while every team is Division I West and Division II East was victorious. Odds of that happening?… If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at currenscc.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Rafael Dominguez, Sheehan — In a season of the running back, it’s becoming harder and harder to overlook Dominguez, as he ran for 186 yards and four touchdowns and caught a 44-yard TD pass as the Titans routed Trinity Catholic, which went to the Class S playoffs last season, 63-26. If Sheehan can survive the first half of the campaign, they might be able to talk postseason as well.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

26

Number of consecutive wins by Hand until getting pummeled by New Canaan last week. What is interesting is that the last loss before the streak began was also against the Rams, in the 2010 Class L semifinals. New Canaan has won three of four against Hand, beating the Tigers in the 2007 Class MM title game, before Hand returned the favor in 2011 at Rentschler Field (in Class L).

GAME OF THE WEEK

Xavier at North Haven, Friday, 7 p.m. — The Indians don’t have Jalon White anymore, but appear to have an advantage at the line of scrimmage against most of the teams in the SCC and can even throw a little more with Mike Halloran under center. Is Xavier on the list of teams North Haven can control the trenches against? Well, we’ll find out Friday night, I guess.

POWER RANKINGS

  • 1. Xavier (1-0; Last Week 1)—Wasn’t perfect, but could have been much worse. Just don’t tell Marinan that.
  • 2. Shelton (1-0; LW 4)—Guilford looked to be more of a challenge before this week’s scores, but you never know.
  • 3. North Haven (1-0; LW 2)—I guess we’ll know after this week whether the Indians are contenders.
  • 4. West Haven (0-1; LW 2)—Greenwich is a good team, but that’s a really bad way to lose for Westies. Painful.
  • 5. Fairfield Prep (1-0; LW 5)—Took a little while to get going, and will face a stiff test in St. Joseph this week.
  • 6. Hand (0-1; LW 3)—Half people I talk to say Tigers are in big trouble; other half say they’ll be fine. We shall see.
  • 7. Cheshire (0-1; LW 6)—Almost pulled one out for the SCC to win the Challenge. Tough to be last one out.
  • 8. Foran (1-0; LW 4)—Showed flashes of their prolific offense, but will face an angry West Haven squad this week.
  • 9. Notre Dame (0-1; LW 7)—Have to work on the defense, but showed some good things at St. Joseph.
  • 10. Guilford (0-1; LW 1)—Would like to show everyone that loss is an aberration, but won’t be easy at Finn Stadium.
  • 11. Hillhouse (0-1; LW 3)—Hoping that Harold Cooper is OK, could still be in good shape with win over Hand.
  • 12. Sheehan (1-0; LW 6)—Impressive win both in opponent and margin. Could really raise eyebrows vs. Amity.
  • 13. Amity (1-0; LW 8)—Able to pull it out against Seymour despite horrific start, so that might be good momentum.
  • 14. Hamden (1-0: LW 10)—Dragons didn’t do anything terribly fancy, but nice way to start and could be 2-0.
  • 15. Wilbur Cross (0-1: LW 9)—Not the most encouraging start for Governors, who are always staring at D-1 sked.
  • 16. East Haven (1-0; LW 8)—Before melting down, Bassick looked very good, not easiest opener for Jackets.
  • 17. Branford (0-1; LW 7)—Black helmets looked nice, but might be tough road ahead for new coach Limone and crew.
  • 18. Jonathan Law (0-1; LW 5)—Was always going to be tough against Cochran and Harding in the opener.
  • 19. Lyman Hall (0-1; LW 9)—Trojans had a very good Sunday, but unfortunately were facing too big a deficit.

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