Branford opened the season with four straight losses against some of the most talented teams in the SCC. The opposition — Foran, Hillhouse, Hand and North Haven — are now a combined 19-1.
“Obviously, coming into the year — not that I’m surprised — I didn’t know Foran would be undefeated at this point,” Branford coach John Limone said. “There were some signs, even though the scores were lopsided, that we would be competitive. It’s been tough, but we never lost confidence in our kids.”
After a rough start, the Hornets finally had something to celebrate. Paced by a strong effort from the defense and from senior running back Zach DeGoursey, Branford knocked off Sheehan 25-12 last Friday to earn its first win of the season.
“It was huge for us,” Limone said.
The 5-foot-11, 210 pound DeGoursey rushed 39 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
“He had an unbelievable night,” Limone said. “He just ran really tough, hit all the gaps hard; broke a lot of tackles.”
DeGoursey suffered a slight stress fracture in his leg during the first half of the season opener against Foran. DeGoursey did not play against Hillhouse, but returned against Hand, although not at full strength.
“It was really good for him to have a big night,” Limone said. “He’s a big, physical kid, we expect a lot more out of him. Zach is key for us.”
Another running back, senior Dakota Carden, is lost for the season after suffering a severe leg injury against Foran. Carden tore his PCL, MCL and meniscus.
“He’s a huge loss for us,” Limone said. “He’s our next back.”
The injuries to Carden and DeGoursey limited the Hornets offensively. Branford scored just 13 points in its first four games.
“We struggled mightily offensively early,” Limone said. “Moving the ball was a problem for us.”
With DeGoursey now healthy, Limone believes the offense will continue to improve.
Junior Griffin Lynch completed 7 of 12 passes for 117 yards against Sheehan. He tossed two touchdown passes, both to senior Luke DiStasio.
Limone was pleased with how the defense performed against the Titans, who run an explosive spread offense.
“Our kids were all over the place,” Limone said. “They prepared really hard all week. They seemed to really digest the game plan and did a good job executing it.”
The Branford defense forced four turnovers, including two in the red zone. DiStasio, senior Zachary Ellison and junior James Dering all made interceptions. Juniors Spencer Berty (eight tackles) and Noah Lordan (six tackles) and freshman Jackson Seward (eight tackles) also contributed.
Senior captain Jake Roberts, a two-way lineman, made six tackles.
“He’s our emotional leader,” Limone said. “He’s done a really nice job for us.”
With the most challenging portion of the schedule in the rearview, Limone is confident about his team’s chances the remainder of the season. The Hornets visit Lyman Hall on Thursday.
“This senior group were sophomores my first year (as head coach),” Limone said. “They’ve been through a lot. I am very proud of this group. There attitude is where it needs to be.
Like Branford, Platt Tech also had a challenging schedule during the season’s first half. The Panthers lost their first four games to opponents who are a combined 14-5.
But Platt Tech pulled off a stunner by defeating previously unbeaten Cheney Tech 22-13 this past week on the road for its first win of the season. The win was the first of Panthers head coach Jimmy Benjamin’s career.
Despite the early-season struggles, Benjamin advised his team to remain confident.
“We just tried to keep telling them that we are a good team and don’t give up,” Benjamin said.
Platt Tech (1-4) operates out of a Wing-T offense that features senior running backs Daniel Homar, David Gonzalez and Mar’quest Earle.
“They’re three good senior running backs,” Benjamin said. “We thought (the Wing-T) would be the best option for this year.”
The Panthers face unbeaten Harding on Saturday in Bridgeport.
When Benjamin took over as head coach, he knew his squad would likely experience some growing pains. Benjamin’s advice to himself entering the season?
“It’s a long season,” Benjamin said. “Don’t give up on your game plan, stick to it, drill it into the kids, and keep the kids thinking about football all the time.”