For the second time in three seasons, North Branford is playing for a state championship. But this year’s Thunderbirds are slightly different in terms of style.
“That team was an offensive-strong team,” North Branford coach Mark Basil said. “This team’s very strong defensively. We don’t have the same type of players, big impact players, offensively, but we have some very solid guys.”
The 2012 team featured running back Dale Hausman, receiver Chris Caron, the versatile Joey DeLucia and quarterback Brandan Basil, Mark Basil’s son. Each had big-play capability. The Thunderbirds finished 12-1, losing to Ansonia 59-26 in the Class S state championship game.
“We have guys that are pretty close to them,” Basil said. “But our quarterback (Paul Pastet) is a little bit different style, and our offense is a little different.”
Basil has often made the comparison between current senior Austin Calamita and DeLucia. Calamita is the Thunderbirds’ biggest offensive threat. He has 39 catches for 908 yards and 19 touchdowns and has scored six times on returns.
Despite the difference in style, the North Branford offense has been just as effective. The T’birds have several options besides Calamita, including Pastet and junior running back Shelby Franklin, and are averaging 43 points per game.
North Branford had to adjust to a season-ending shoulder injury to starting quarterback Eddie Miller, but Pastet has filled in admirably by throwing for 802 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Pastet has guided the Thunderbirds to seven straight wins and leads North Branford (11-1) into Saturday’s Class S-Small state championship game against Capital Prep/Achievement First (11-1) at 10:30 a.m. at Arute Field on the campus of Central Connecticut State. The Thunderbirds’ lone state title came in 1979.
Some pundits questioned whether North Branford could reach the final without Miller.
“Once we lost Eddie, I think the expectations fell off on us,” Basil said. “Maybe in a sense (we’ve flown under the radar) but, to us, we expected this season to be pretty much what it was.”
Pastet’s teammates never questioned his ability.
“We’re very thankful for Paul,” North Branford senior running back/linebacker Nick Sagnella said. “He was a great backup to Eddie and a great starter now. He’s got all the tools we need to have a successful team. We’re thankful to have him.”
Sagnella leads a defense which has allowed just 14 points per contest. Sagnella has 135 tackles and eight sacks while end Mike Kaiser has recorded 145 tackles and 7½ sacks.
“Nick is a very passionate, emotional kid,” Basil said, “while Mike Kaiser is the tough guy on our team. He’s the guy you just rally around.”
Senior defensive lineman Lou DiStasio has added 102 tackles and 3½ sacks and Calamita has intercepted five passes.
“We’re not the biggest team,” Basil said. “We have good size, but it’s our speed. Calamita, he can pick the ball and go for six; he’ll strip it. DiStasio has over 100 tackles; that’s a problem for teams to try and stop a kid like that. Then you have Sagnella and Kaiser who move very well. We’re aggressive, and they believe in themselves.”