EAST HAVEN >> Ah, those turnovers.
They worked out perfectly for East Haven and were the death knell for Branford as the Yellowjackets took advantage of two interceptions late in the second quarter to score 14 points in fewer than four minutes en route to a 14-0 victory Thanksgiving morning in the annual Beehive Bowl at Crisafi Field.
East Haven (5-5) won its final three games of the season and closed the gap in the series. Branford leads 38-33-4.
“These kids have spent a lot of time on the downside of .500 and a winning record,” East Haven coach Melvin Wells said. “For the first time in a long time – I want to say around 15 or 20 years – we’ve had back-to-back non-losing seasons. Our seniors did a great job of making our last three games really count.”
Branford (4-6) was stopped short of scoring twice in the opening 15 minutes, despite moving the ball deep into East Haven territory, reaching the 19- and 6-yard lines.
On the second drive, Branford quarterback Griffin Lynch (17-for-35 passing for 222 yards and four interceptions) was picked off in the back of the end zone by Jay Donaldson.
“We’ve had trouble in the red zone the last four weeks,” said Branford coach John Limone, whose Hornets dropped their fourth straight contest.
Four minutes later, East Haven’s Andrew Luzzi snagged a tipped pass, setting up the Yellowjackets at the Hornets’ 21-yard line. Three plays later, Donaldson (7 carries for 66 yards) scooted into the end zone from 16 yards out for the first score of the game. Evan Damian added the extra point to make it 7-0 with 5:27 to play in the first half.
It didn’t take long for the turnover bug-a-boo to bite Branford again. Four plays later, Donaldson cut in front of Branford wide receiver Brian Nichols and intercepted Lynch again at the Hornets’ 36-yard line.
“Obviously, you can’t turn over the ball four times in the first half, but they outplayed us today,” Limone said.
Six plays later, East Haven used a trick play with running back McClay Marshall (99 yards rushing) throwing a halfback pass to Luis Torres in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Damian added the extra point to push the Yellowjackets’ lead to 14-0 with 55 seconds remaining until halftime.
East Haven did have a chance to add an insurance touchdown late in the third quarter, but Marshall lost the ball at the Hornets’ 10-yard line with Zachary Cash falling on it.
Branford never got going offensively in the second half, getting no further than the East Haven 38-yard line.
Wells said East Haven’s defensive game plan worked perfectly.
“Our game plan was to stop their inside run and not allow the long ball when they threw the ball,” Wells said.
“We worked hard at the bend, but don’t break philosophy which takes a lot of maturity on our kids’ part not to put their heads down when things go wrong. I thought we controlled the ballgame in regards to being able to keep them off the field and put ourselves in good football field position.”