BRANFORD – A lot of times, high school football is about changing on the fly.
East Haven had to do just that late in the first quarter when sophomore quarterback Trevor Angelo was knocked out of
Thanksgiving morning’s game at Branford with a concussion. The Yellowjackets abandoned their spread offense and went back to an option-style rushing offense with senior Mike DeMarco running the show.
That made all the difference as Demarco carried the ball 30 times in the final three quarters for 86 yards as East Haven blanked Branford, 21-0, at the James MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex in the 72nd meeting between the two schools.
East Haven (2-9) hadn’t won the Thanksgiving Day game between the two neighbors since 2006 and had lost 11 of the previous 12 games. Branford finished winless this season in 11 starts, but still leads the all-time series between the two rivals, 37-31-4.
“This is completely what we needed,” said DeMarco. “We wanted to move the program in the right direction and this is great for the younger guys.”
Both teams suffered from the jitters early as fumbles stalled the first three possessions of the game. Branford’s defense came up big with a goal line stand midway through the first quarter as the Hornets stopped East Haven on 1st-and-inches.
“I’ve been in a lot of big games and the first five to 10 minutes is usually loose and the game doesn’t get into a flow,” said first-year East Haven coach Anthony Lucibello. “It was ugly, but once the adrenaline kicked down a little bit, we settled down.”
Dom Dellacamera gave East Haven all the points it would need on a windy day with a 1-yard jaunt just 1:05 into the second quarter, Agustin Zurita connected with the first of three successful extra point kicks to make it 7-0.
DeMarco was the big offensive player from that point for the Yellowjackets as Branford’s defense wasn’t able to stop him once he came in at quarterback. He added a 3-yard jaunt with 5:32 remaining until intermission to make it 14-0 at halftime.
“DeMarco ran the offense we first put in when we started here,” said Lucibello. “We haven’t spent a lot of time with that offense.”
East Haven held Branford to just one first down and three yards of offense over the first three quarters as the Hornets sorely missed starting tailback Carl Williams, who broke a thumb last week in a loss to Sheehan and could only play on defense. The Hornets finally got a drive going midway through the fourth quarter and had a chance to close it to 14-7 but Zachary DeGoursey’s pass for Mike Potter in the end zone was picked off by Andre Rhodes with 2:46 to play.
“That was the big one,” said Branford rookie head coach John Limone. “Potter goes up to make a play, comes down on his back on top of another player and the ball bounces up in the air. Three inches to the left and he has a touchdown.”
Six plays later, Rhodes scored in from five yards out to account for the final score of the day.
For Branford, it completed a difficult season.
“This year was Murphy’s Law for us,” said Limone. “We played hard, but we got younger as the year went on. This one stings, but we were 0-10 in my sophomore year when I played here. Two years later, we were 5-5 and started to turn things around. That’s what we’re going for. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”