NORTH BRANFORD >> Gabe Eriksen remembered the feeling of leaving the Peters Complex in Clinton just 10 months ago after he and his Morgan Huskies were knocked out of CIAC Class contention with a 41-40 overtime loss to North Branford.
Eriksen didn’t want to feel that way again Friday night.
And he made sure of that, scoring three touchdowns, including two in the final 4:59 as Morgan came from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to stun the Thunderbirds, 40-37, in a wild Pequot Conference season opener at Colafati Field.
“After the loss in the last game of the year, missing the playoffs because of it and coming back on their home field in the fourth quarter, it is huge,” said Eriksen, who carried the ball 21 times for 129 yards.
“We talked about it all week,” said Morgan coach Peter Nye, who came up a victor in his first game as the Huskies’ head coach. “It meant a lot to them. I know these kids wanted it.”
North Branford took the 37-27 lead with 5:39 to go when quarterback Paul Pastet (12-for-26 passing for 223 yards and 105 yards rushing) connected with Shelby Franklin for a 69-yard scoring strike.
It didn’t take long for Morgan to close the gap as the Huskies went 52 yards in just three plays with Eriksen scoring from 25 yards out with 4:59 remaining.
North Branford could have put the game away by taking time off the clock or scoring again, but the Thunderbirds were stopped at the Morgan 20 on a 4th-and-8 when a pass by Pastet fell incomplete.
The Huskies took over from there and with quarterback Chucky Kostek (21-for-35 for 328 yards passing and 39 yards rushing) moving Morgan down the field quick, the ball reached the North Branford 9 as the clock moved.
Eriksen cruised into the end zone untouched with 37 seconds left to put the Huskies ahead, 40-37.
“It was a wide open hole,” Eriksen said. “That’s the O-line. Those five boys right there.”
“We do two minute drills every day,” Nye said. “Our guys were as comfortable as could be and they executed.”
With 55 points having been scored in the second half, it was far from over. But after Pastet’s helmet came off on first down from the Thunderbirds’ 33, he had to sit out a play. Backup quarterback Dylan Blake’s pass was picked off by Eriksen at the Morgan 35 and the Huskies ran out the clock.
“We’re not a deep team and we’re relatively young,” said Basil. “With all the cramping we had going on, we got tired and our starters were tapped out. I think it got to them in the second half.”
Early in the game, mistakes killed both sides. An illegal forward pass in the end zone by Kostek gave North Branford a safety as the Thunderbirds took a 2-0 lead. After Pastet hit Matt Chamberlain with a 9-yard pass in the opening minute of the second quarter, it was 9-0. But Kostek threw TD passes to Mateo Zumpano and Harrison White as Morgan took a 13-9 edge at halftime.
From there on, neither team could stop the other in the second half as points were aplenty. Three times, North Branford took 10 point leads (23-13, 30-20 and 37-27), but was unable to close the deal.
“It’s a disappointing loss, but this young team needed that,” Basil said. “We did well in the preseason, but it’s not a true indication of who we were and it concerned me. We just couldn’t stop them.”