“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” — Mark Twain
It was a chilly October night in 2010, with Halloween on the horizon and Notre Dame-West Haven visiting Vanacore Field in North Haven, which was a pain in the rear end for both teams because it meant they couldn’t conduct the usual game scrimmage against each other the week before the regular season.
The Indians entered with a better record, but few gave them a chance to beat the Green Knights, who were defending state champs. Notre Dame had suffered two heartbreaking losses to Division I teams, but surely could see off the, albeit much-improved Indians, who had been blanked by Hillhouse and managed only 13 points in an unconvincing victory over Hamden.
ND led 17-7, North Haven answered with a touchdown, but come the fourth quarter, it was time for the upstart Indians to go away. This was North Haven, after all, which just four years prior were 0-10 in Division II, and that’s just what Division II teams were supposed to do when facing a Division I power.
Of course, they didn’t and pulled the stunner of the SCC season, 21-17, intercepting Sean Goldrich four times. That Indians team wouldn’t lose again until December when they gave Hand a tougher tussle than expected at the Surf Club before falling in the Class L semifinals.
“We got an opportunity to see where we are at this point,” North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said after the game. “Notre Dame is a formidable opponent and we were able to knock them off.”
Notre Dame would defeat North Haven on its way to a return to the postseason in 2011, but it was joined by those pesky Indians, who didn’t lose another game until giving heavily-favored Masuk fits on a rainy quarterfinal night in Trumbull.
North Haven came into this season 32-10 in its four previous campaigns and had pounded Bridgeport Central in its opener, but with the loss of all-everything Jalon White to graduation and the stigma of the past — having never won a state playoff game under the current format and that darn Division II thing — the Indians still entered Friday’s game with Xavier as significant underdogs. Of course, you could argue much of that may lie with the three-time defending state champion Falcons, winners of 38 of their last 39 games.
But Xavier learned the hard way the intricacies of Vanacore Field Friday night in a game that was eerily reminiscent to the treatment Notre Dame received three years earlier. The game entered the fourth quarter even, but the difference was we shouldn’t have been completely fooled when the Indians ended up prevailing 42-28.
It’s not like we don’t know what North Haven football can do by now. Its single-wing offense, once a novelty, is now just flat out effective against almost everyone. And when a 7-3 record last season that included defeats to three different state champions is considered an “off-year”, we can consider you a legitimate SCC power.
Yes, there was no White Friday night for the Indians, but the line from last season is virtually intact. And although he didn’t have much chance to show it in 2012, Michael Halloran can throw the ball better than most Indians quarterbacks in the last few years, tossing three touchdown passes against a stunned Xavier defense.
In addition to the powerful line, senior Ethan Suraci leads the rushing attack, but Sagnella is confident in a few others including Halloran and sophomore Michael Montano, who is averaging more than 12.8 yards per carry in the early-going this season. Junior Zach Kastenhuber had a massive game against Xavier on both sides of the ball, catching touchdown passes and playing a solid defensive back. And, of course, we can’t forget the kicker, sophomore Sabrina Fronte, now 12-for-12 on extra points, all of which were big on Friday night.
There are still potential pitfalls in their final nine games, including a trip to the Surf Club next week, Hillhouse, Guilford, and Amity, as well as a November non-conference contest with Darien, which should join them in the state rankings this week. But their state ranking this week will not be a fluke and obviously neither would another Class L playoff appearance, maybe even a first ever home playoff game at Vanacore Field on a cold December night.
While we can’t predict the future, at least with any reasonable accuracy, after nearly a decade of successful teams, North Haven’s success is no fluke or aberration. After Friday’s game, as he’s done several times in the last few years, Sagnella talked about the commitment of the North Haven youth program, as well as his staff, which has been almost completely intact for more than a decade.
It remains to be seen where the Indians will fall in the state rankings, but as for the SCC, they are No. 1 until someone knocks them off their perch, and you don’t get there by accident.
CATHOLIC HAIL MARY
I guess if you’re Fairfield Prep, you can say it was a remarkable comeback to storm back from a 30-14 fourth-quarter deficit to grab a 34-30 lead late, but — just as West Haven still has a bitter taste in their mouth from a brutal defeat to an FCIAC power — the sting from how the game against St. Joseph ended Friday night in Fairfield may last for a while.
With the ball on Prep’s 42-yard line and time for only a single play, St. Joseph quarterback Jordan Vazzano stepped up and threw it down the right sideline where Prep looked on in horror as the safeties stayed in the middle of the field and the only defender left in the corner fell down. Lars Pedersen only had to catch the pass and fall into the end zone to give the Cadets a stunning victory, and — just like the Westies — deal the Jesuits an early blow to their Class LL playoff hopes, especially with teams like Shelton and Xavier still hanging around.
On the plus side, if things go correctly the rest of the way, it may make the annual Thanksgiving encounter that much more interesting — it hasn’t really been must-see in about a decade. By then, the annoying smell of those tough losses may be fading, but they won’t be completely gone until one or the other qualifies for the Class LL playoffs.
Nick Phan made sure Fronte wasn’t the only kicker to make the news, as his 19-yard field goal with 5 seconds left gave Hand a vital 28-26 comeback win over Hillhouse in West Haven. Sophomore quarterback Nick van Dell came off the bench for the second straight game for the Tigers, who are normally reluctant to play youngsters under center. Hillhouse led 18-0 early in the second quarter before Hand got a safety and stormed back for the massive win, even if it is Week 2… With a little bit of a vacuum at the top of Division I, Shelton will look to fill the void and has done nicely through two weeks, seeing off Guilford 43-14 on Friday… The Gaels have a big game against Fairfield Prep next week, but will have to get through Amity first as the Spartans moved to 2-0 by stopping Sheehan, just days after the death of head coach Bert Mozealous’ mother at the age of 90. Amity had a 27-0 lead over the Titans, who put up 63 points against Trinity Catholic in Week 1… We had our first overtime contest of the season between Jonathan Law and Wilbur Cross and the Lawmen actually kicked a field goal (Mike Murray, who was also 3-for-3 on extra points) in the extra session, but the Governors won it on their first play when Steve Swinson ran it in for the game-winning score… With all the talk of parity in the SCC, outside of North Haven, Law was as close as Division II came to posting another victory as Division I finished 8-1… Former offensive coordinator Anthony Lucibello returned to Hamden (with a couple of his former players in tow as assistants) as East Haven’s head coach, but it was all Dragons as Hamden has won back-to-back games since 2009 when Lucibello was wearing a headset for them. Hamden recorded a pair of safeties in the 45-0 rout… Cheshire led 40-0 in extending Lyman Hall’s longest SCC losing streak by a 47-0 final… Oh, all this parity. Notre Dame shook off its loss to St. Joseph, leading 34-0 at the intermission on its way to a 47-7 pasting at Branford… If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at @currenscc.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
David Buono, Amity — Although he said his offensive line opened up holes he could see “from 100 yards”, Buono still ran for 165 yards and five touchdowns as Amity routed Sheehan 48-13. The Spartans gave the game ball to coach Bert Mozealous, whose mother had died earlier in the week.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Outside of the three close games (Xavier-North Haven; Jonathan Law-Wilbur Cross; Hand-Hillhouse), the smallest margin of victory for any game last week (Guilford-Shelton). So while things are getting a little more competitive in these games, there are still more non-competitive than competitive in crossover weeks.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Sheehan at Foran, Friday, 7 p.m. — The SCC already has the record for most combined points scored (in the modern era) in state history when Guilford beat Jonathan Law 67-53 in November of 2010. Frankly, if this game doesn’t break 100, I’ll be disappointed. Both teams have shown the ability to explode offensively and gave up a combined 97 points last week. So if you want entertainment, this might be the place to be.
- 1. North Haven (2-0; Last Week 3) — “I guess we’ll know after this week whether the Indians are contenders.” Yes.
- 2. Shelton (2-0; LW 2) — Gaels are looking like contenders as well this season, Amity might pose some problems.
- 3. Xavier (1-1; LW 1) — Weren’t too many people sad to see Falcons lose. Comes with territory, I guess.
- 4. West Haven (1-1; LW 4) — Darien blowing out Greenwich couldn’t have made Westies feel any better.
- 5. Fairfield Prep (1-1; LW 5) — “Knock it down,” as Tom Jackson always said on Primetime. Look it up, kids.
- 6. Hand (1-1; LW 6) — Jury still out on Tigers, who at least get to return home to the Surf Club this week.
- 7. Cheshire (1-1; LW 7) — Do they have anything for the Westies this weekend? They usually do at Maclary.
- 8. Notre Dame (1-1; LW 9) — Could end up being a thorn in someone’s side before end of campaign.
- 9. Amity (2-0; LW 13) — Will know much more about the Spartans after they take on Shelton this week.
- 10. Hamden (2-0: LW 14) — You think Xavier might be a teeny bit angry this week coming down to Hamden?
- 11. Hillhouse (0-2; LW 11) — We knew the beginning of the season would be rough. Almost pulled it out.
- 12. Foran (1-1; LW 8) — If he plays all four quarters, expecting Kasuba to have massive numbers this week.
- 13. Guilford (0-2; LW 10) — Well, that’s not how Indians envisioned beginning season. Should get first win Friday.
- 14. Sheehan (1-1; LW 12) — Defense had rough night against Amity and could be in for another one.
- 15. Wilbur Cross (1-1; LW 15) — Reward for winning? You get to christen to new and improved Surf Club.
- 16. East Haven (1-1; LW 16) — Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it? Or three weeks (hosting North Haven).
- 17. Jonathan Law (0-2; LW 18) — Lawmen open season with a Bridgeport school and both New Haven schools.
- 18. Branford (0-2; LW 17) — Hornets get to go down to Wilton on Saturday, which almost beat Staples. Ouch.
- 19. Lyman Hall (0-2; LW 19) — Trojans’ losing streak will end sometime, but tough ask against angry Guilford.