NORTH BRANFORD >> Jake Ward and his Morgan teammates did not feel they showed their best effort a week ago in a loss to Valley Regional. Ward was not about to let that happen again.
The junior ran for 330 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries as Morgan defeated North Branford 33-21 Friday night in a Pequot Division game at Colafati Field.
“This is a huge win for us,” Ward said. “We knew this was a big game for us. My line was big. I love my line. All the credit goes to my line.”
The contest between the division rivals, who both suffered a loss to Valley Regional in their last game, was decided in the second half. With North Branford leading 21-20, Morgan and Ward took over.
Ward gave the Huskies the lead for good with 2 minutes, 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter when he raced 86 yards up the middle for a score.
The Morgan defense, which dominated the second half, held North Branford on three plays on the Thunderbirds’ next possession. Seven plays later, Ward was at it again as he raced 67 yards for the score 1:48 into the fourth quarter for a 33-21 advantage.
“We were embarrassed last week,” Morgan coach Mike Eagle said after his team improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the division. “We played a good Valley team and we felt we did not give our best. We lost our composure and that started with me.
“We put together our game plan this week and we knew he (Ward) was going to be a big part of it. He’s the man. He carried us. We made some big plays.”
North Branford took the lead at the half thanks in part to the play of quarterback Eddie Miller, who threw a pair of touchdowns and ran in another in a wide open first half. The second half was completely different as Morgan keyed on Miller and the North Branford offense could not get going.
“That kid is awesome,” Eagle said of Miller. “He is very good. We knew it was going to be a tight game. We needed the win. I am very happy with where the program is right now.”
The Thunderbirds opened the scoring in the first half as Miller hit Shelby Acquah-Franklin with an 18-yard scoring strike 4:44 into the game before Morgan evened the score when Gabe Eriksen intercepted Miller and raced 35 yards with 3:34 left in the opening quarter.
“We are a young team,” North Branford coach Mark Basil said after his team fell to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the division. “We made some young mistakes and it just snowballed from there. We are having trouble overcoming that. We are our own worst enemy.”
The Huskies took a 13-7 lead with 37 seconds remaining in the opening quarter when Ward scored the first of his touchdowns from 33 yards out.
“We knew we had to come out and pound the ball,” Ward said.
Miller capped a 10-play drive with a 15-yard score to even the game with 5:23 left in the half, but the kick on the conversion failed just as Morgan’s did to keep the game even at 13.
Ward’s second touchdown of the night, this one from 7 yards out with 3:34 left, put Morgan on top 20-13, but Miller hit Tyler Hawk with an 18-yard scoring strike, then ran in the conversion for a 21-20 lead with 1:14 remaining in the first half.
“Coach (Eagle) does a nice job over there,” Basil said. “Their offensive line does a nice job. They neutralized our line.
“We have to get back on solid ground. We are a young team. I thought the bye would get us back on our feet. But, their kid (Ward) had a big game.”
After a big first half by the Thunderbirds, Morgan held North Branford to just 89 yards of total offense in the second half.
“I thought the defense was excellent, especially in the second half,” Ward said.
Miller finished the game 17 of 28 for 204 yards in the air, while running for 95 yards on 20 carries for North Branford.
Morgan 33, North Branford 21
(at North Branford)
Morgan 13 7 6 7 — 33
North Branford 7 14 0 0 — 21
N—Shelby Franklin 18 pass from Eddie Miller (Shelby Franklin kick)
M—Gabe Eriksen 35 int ret (Joe Lee kick)
M—Jake Ward 33 run (Kick Blocked)
N—Eddie Miller 15 run (Kick Failed)
M—Jake Ward 7 run (Joe Lee Kick)
N—Tyler Hawk 18 pass from Eddie Miller (Miller run)
M—Jake Ward 86 run (Run Failed)
M—Jake Ward 67 run (Lee Kick)
Team records: North Branford 4-3; Morgan 6-1