NORTH HAVEN >> Anthony Sagnella often uses the word resiliency when speaking with his North Haven High football team.
“It’s our motto,” North Haven senior quarterback Jack Steinman said.
On a day it appeared the Indians had little trouble – their 49-14 victory over Amity at Vanacore Field was their eighth straight Thanksgiving Day win – that durability and spirit was tested early.
What seemed like a harmless 1-yard run play late in the first quarter took out two key North Haven players. Senior co-captain Tom Dodge was finished for the day with a concussion. Junior Mark Montano tweaked his hip and back, and saw little action the rest of the game.
“It’s crazy,” Sagnella said. “But that’s football. Fortunately, we have other guys able to step in and step up.”
At the time of the injuries, Montano had three carries for 53 yards; Dodge one reception and one carry. Both are listed as running backs and defensive backs, and are instrumental to the Indians’ game plan on both sides of the ball.
On the play after they left the game Amity (3-7) scored a touchdown – a 6-yard run by quarterback Colin Beaulieu — to pull within 7-6 with 1:31 remaining in the first quarter.
North Haven (4-6) quickly adjusted its game plan, scoring 42 unanswered points. Fullback Max Sullivan ran for 198 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries while Steinman threw two touchdowns to lead the charge.
When it was over, the team gathered in front of the home bleachers to sing the school’s alma mater with the band. It’s a tradition the Indians do after every win. They’d lost all four home games prior to Thursday, so this was the first time they sang since last year.
“We fought a lot this season,” Steinman said. “It’s nice to finish it the right way. The way we wanted to. I’m glad we did it on our home field.”
Wins weren’t easy to come by this season for North Haven, a playoff fixture the past three seasons. Last fall, it posted the first perfect regular season in school history and came within a whisker of beating New Canaan for the Class L championship.
Promoted to Tier I in the competitive Southern Connecticut Conference, the Indians were on the wrong end of their share of close games. They lost the season-opener by three points and two more by a point, including a 43-42 decision to Fairfield Prep on Nov. 11 in which the Jesuits scored the winning touchdown and 2-point conversion with 25 seconds remaining.
“The program expectations with me have never been about winning,” Sagnella said. “They’ve always been about commitment, about toughness, about preparation. This senior class didn’t fall short of any of those things. They fell short on the scoreboard sometimes, but they never fell short in courage or resiliency. They’re tough kids. I’m very happy they could end their careers on a positive.”