NORTH HAVEN >> Through 20 minutes of football, North Haven senior quarterback Cole Pecora and the rest of his Indian teammates could not have liked what they saw. The final 28 were more to North Haven’s liking.
Scoring 42 unanswered points and overcoming a sloppy first half, North Haven opened the season with a 42-6 victory over Bridgeport Central in a SCC-FCIAC Challenge contest at Vanacore Field.
“We were able to wear on them in the second half,” North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said. “With us, we have to learn that game experience.
“We played a very good opponent. Our kids are learning the game of football on the varsity level. It was a sloppy game in many ways. I am proud of the kids’ effort in the second half compared to the first.”
Leading 7-6 despite struggling in the first half, North Haven took control of the game with 35 second half points. The Indians not only controlled the scoreboard, but led in plays (38-18) and yards in the final 24 minutes.
After failing to score on their opening drive of the second half despite getting to the Bridgeport Central 16, the Indians needed eight plays to march 43 yards on their second possession. Pecora’s 8-yard touchdown run capped the drive for a 13-6 lead with 1 minute, 59 seconds to go in the third quarter.
“Obviously, we are a young team,” Pecora said. “We were able to stay positive throughout the game. They came out ready to play and they showed that. We were able to stay positive and turned the game around.”
Pecora then intercepted a Josh Nieves pass at the Hilltoppers’ 39 on Central’s next play from scrimmage.
Seven plays later, Tom Gallagher was in from six yards out and Pecora ran in the conversion for a 21-6 lead just 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“Cole is one of our most experienced players on the team right now,” Sagnella said of Pecora. “He understands he is a veteran and the veterans have to help the younger players.”
The Indians were so dominant in the second half, they outgained Bridgeport Central 244-39, holding a 306-173 advantage in the contest.
Tom Dodge put the game away in the fourth quarter as he scored from eight yards out and added a 3-yard score with 7:09 remaining for a 35-6 lead. Max Sullivan capped the scoring with a 15-yard burst in the final four minutes.
“We had to make some adjustments,” Sagnella said. “Our program expectations are blocking, tackling, running and getting off the line of scrimmage. That was the best thing that came out of tonight.”
After gaining just 28 yards through the first 20 minutes of the opening half, the Indians caught a break when a bad snap on a Bridgeport Central punt attempt gave North Haven possession at the Hilltoppers’ 34-yard line.
Pecora needed just five plays to capitalize as he ran for 14 yards on second down, then capped the scoring drive with a beautifully executed 16-yard scoring strike to Jeremy Imperati with 2:32 remaining in the half. Sabrina Fronte’s extra point proved to be the difference in the half, giving North Haven a 7-6 lead.
Until Pecora’s late touchdown strike in the opening half, the Hilltoppers were in control behind Nieves, playing quarterback for the injured Manny Lavant, and running backs Dontae Brown and Marcal Loyd.
Bridgeport Central had 134 yards of offense in the opening half, including 57 in the air, but only found the back of the end zone once.
The Hilltoppers also took advantage of great field position off a fumbled snap when Raheem Lynch recovered a North Haven fumble on the Indians first play from scrimmage.
Bridgeport Central needed just three plays to capitalize as Nieves ran for 12 yards, then found a wide open Anthony Vann on the left sideline. Vann raced 44 yards untouched to give Bridgeport Central a 6-0 lead as the two-point conversion was stopped by the North Haven defense.
The first half of the season for both teams was marred by several fumbled snaps as the two teams combined for five fumbles in the first first 24 minutes and eight in the game.