BRANFORD >> East Haven’s dream of qualifying for the CIAC football playoffs for the first time in school history came to an abrupt end Thanksgiving morning.
Evan Damian’s 37-yard field goal with 1:28 remaining fell short and Branford held on for a 10-7 victory in the 74th meeting between the two neighboring schools.
The Hornets (5-5) lead the series, 38-32-4.
East Haven (7-3) had lost 36 straight games from 2007-10, but came into Thursday morning’s contest with a chance to clinch a Class M playoff berth with a victory. Instead, St. Joseph, Stratford and Foran all won and knocked East Haven out. The Yellowjackets finished 10th in Class M.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” said East Haven coach Melvin Wells. “Sometimes when situations like this are new, it’s hard to understand what’s required to get to that particular position. Nothing is going to change about today, but now it’s time to regroup and learn from it.”
What was a defensive-oriented contest changed on the sixth play of the fourth quarter.
East Haven was forced to punt from its own 24-yard line, but Austin Thornberg’s rugby-style punt was blocked by Jackson Seward, giving Branford the ball on the Yellowjackets’ 12-yard line.
“All season long Thornberg has been phenomenal with the rugby style punt,” said Wells. “It just so happened that was the one.”
East Haven’s defense held Branford out of the end zone, but Ted Gionteris connected on a 24-yard field goal with 8:27 remaining in the game to make it 10-7.
“Ted has been kicking the ball well all week,” said Branford coach John Limone. “We had a lot of confidence we were going to make the kick, but it’s one of those where tomorrow I’m a bum if we miss the kick.”
The Yellowjackets had a chance to win or tie at the end on a drive starting on their own 16-yard line. Branford’s Luke DiStasio almost picked off a Trevor Angelo pass intended for Thornberg, but Thornberg ripped the ball out of DiStasio’s hands at the Hornets’ 20 with just over 2 minutes to play.
Branford’s defense held there, forcing Wells to send Damian out to try to send the game to overtime with a 37-yard field goal attempt he would miss short.
Both teams had scored touchdowns in the first half. East Haven went on top on its first possession when East Haven quarterback Trevor Angelo (9-for-17 passing for 108 yards) found a wide open Mike Griffith over the middle for a 31-yard touchdown strike. With Damian’s extra point, it was 7-0 with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter.
The Hornets tied it up on the second play of the second quarter when Hornet quarterback Griffin Lynch (7-for-13 and 111 yards passing) hit DiStasio in the left flat with what looked like would be a short gain. However, DiStasio got into the open on the sideline in front of the East Haven bench and took it all the way for a 78-yard touchdown. Gionteris’ extra point tied it at 7-7.
From there, it became a defensive battle with each team holding the other’s top running backs.
Branford was able to hold East Haven’s running tandem of Thornberg (14 carries for 21 carries) and McClay Marshall (7 carries for 38 yards).
“We played a front we haven’t played much of, but have had some success with against the wing-T,” said Limone. “We knew we had to stop their jet sweep.”
Meanwhile, Zach DeGoursey was held to just 29 yards on 21 carries for Branford.
Branford 10, East Haven 7
East Haven 7 0 0 0 0 — 7
Branford 0 7 0 3 0 — 10
E—Mike Griffith 31 pass from trevor angelo (Evan Damian kick)
B—Luke DiStasio 78 pass from Griffin Lynch (Ted Gionteris kick)
B—Ted Gionteris 24 FG
Team records: Branford 5-5; East Haven 7-3