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The news of North Haven throwing the ball 35 times Friday against Notre Dame hit some people as shocking, especially paired with the fact that the Indians lost a game they were winning by two touchdowns.
If you’ve been in underground bunker waiting for the apocalypse for the last decade, North Haven switched to the single-wing offense in 2009 and it has become its calling card, leaving victims in its wake and rarely needing to throw a pass in the process.
The Indians have been a dominant Division II team since, a perennial CIAC playoff squad, making it all the way to the Class L final in 2015 before being stopped by New Canaan 42-35 in a classic which saw them come up just short.
One of the most interesting stats to come out of that final was the 26 pass attempts for the Indians, by far the most since the switch to the single wing. I was told it might be a harbinger of things to come, the Indians had quarterback Jack Steinman and his big arm returning and the inevitable move to Division I meant North Haven was going to get a little more creative at some point.
North Haven threw the ball 18 times in the opener against Cheshire … and lost, following it up with two easy victories in which it threw a total of seven times combined. But those were against lower division competition, and the Indians had 15 pass attempts against Hand in an easy victory last week. Then came Friday night.
It was clear almost from the opening kickoff that Notre Dame was going to give North Haven fits at the line of scrimmage. And you can’t say Anthony Sagnella didn’t try to run the ball, they had 31 rushes for just 37 yards. Despite the lack of success in that area, North Haven still led 27-14 and finished with 34 points, racking up 336 yards through the air.
“I told Anthony, you guys looked like Foran out there,” Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci said. “They threw the ball well and they were very precise. They couldn’t run it, but they could throw it. He’s a great coach and they do a great job preparing those kids. But I thought our kids got stronger as the game went on.”
But in the end, it was another defeat, the Indians’ second in three games as a member of Division I.
“We’re a team that prides itself on controlling the line and we didn’t,” Sagnella said. “Notre Dame established it and they never gave it back. That’s the mark of a good team, and that’s something we’re going to try to learn from. We’re a work in progress. We’re getting experience and we’re working hard. Despite the loss, I think we were better than we were in the first four weeks.”
North Haven’s rise and the accompanying single wing has been one of the best stories in SCC football for the last decade or so, a program that was among the worst in the conference regardless of division rising through the ranks to become one of the best.
And the Indians did it with an offense that was supposedly defunct a half-century ago, completely against the modern conventional wisdom that spreading defenses out and throwing more passes was the new way to succeed.
But has the novelty worn off? Have teams been able to decipher the single wing? Will the competition level in Division I make it obsolete?
[aesop_video width=”720″ align=”center” src=”youtube” id=”XTcxSOkmaI8″ caption=”Notre Dame-West Haven defeated North Haven 49-34 at Vanacore Field Friday (video by Sean Patrick Bowley – GameTimeCT.com)” disable_for_mobile=”on” loop=”on” autoplay=”on” controls=”on” viewstart=”on” viewend=”on”]
Many of the (mostly jealous) detractors would probably love to believe that. However, it’s probably not the truth. The Indians lost plenty from last season’s Class L finalists and have people that can throw the ball.
In their losses, they’ve scored enough points to win (they had plenty Friday), but have really been let down by their defense, an area where they were able to dominate Division II opponents, even when its single wing had a tough day.
It is obviously a big concern that they’re struggling at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball with Shelton, West Haven, Xavier, and Fairfield Prep next on the schedule. North Haven has already completed as many passes this year (53) than it did throughout its 13-game run to the Class L finals last year.
“We are capable of passing and we’ve been working on it,” Sagnella said. “It was like last year against New Canaan and everybody said, ‘What?’ We worked on it last year, we just didn’t have an opportunity.
“Coming into this stretch, we’re going to have to do everything that we’re capable of doing to compete. It’s not a question of stubbornness or philosophy or we’re a running team so we should be running the ball. We can do everything right now on offense and our kids know that.”
Considering the plight of the 2016 North Haven football team and its struggling single wing does require looking at everything in context, though.
It was a decade ago that the Indians were winless while playing a majority Division II schedule. While they certainly belong in Division I — and to their credit, there is hardly anyone involved with North Haven that would say differently — they would likely be favored over any non-Division I team at the moment (sorry, Hillhouse).
While it may still struggle in the next few weeks, the single wing is not on its way out in North Haven any time soon. And, if recent history is any guide, the Indians won’t be intimidated into changing, either.
Keep eyes on Wilbur Cross
As I’ve said before, no team has benefited more from the SCC divisional reshuffling than Wilbur Cross. But the Governors have made a lot of their own luck this season, and may be able to do it several more times before the end of the season.
With quarterback Zion Setal lost for the season in August with a knee injury, Cross’ prospects appeared to take a pretty serious hit. But halfway through the campaign, the Governors (who already had a bye week) are 3-1. A look down the schedule sees Cross have a legitimate shot to qualify for the CIAC playoffs for the first time since 1983.
The biggest key for the Governors has been their defense, which allowed 21 points to high-powered Foran in the opener (a win), but then held Fairfield Prep to 21 (a loss) and conceded just a touchdown each to Lyman Hall and Jonathan Law.
Setal’s replacement, junior Terrell Watts, has not been spectacular but has been very effective. And busy.
Even with a backup, John Acquavita has not shied away from the passing game, Watts has thrown 106 passes in four games for six touchdowns, eclipsing the 200-yard mark in each of the last two victories.
Some tough tasks await, Cross still has New London and Hillhouse down the stretch, and a split might get them into the Class LL postseason. If you’re looking to book an SCC game for Thanksgiving ahead of time for playoff possibilities and a competitive game, it’s probably going to be at Bowen Field, unless you’re into Cheshire-Southington or if Fairfield Prep is still alive by then.
For now, the Wilbur Cross story is under the radar. But it’s definitely worth watching as the weather gets colder.
[aesop_video width=”720″ align=”center” src=”youtube” id=”xfy4QAWXJJE” caption=”Cheshire’s Ethan Bronson’s winning kick vs. Xavier via Sportzedge.com” disable_for_mobile=”on” loop=”on” autoplay=”on” controls=”on” viewstart=”on” viewend=”on”]
Cheshire and Xavier produced a nominee for SCC Game of the Year Friday with the Falcons staging an improbable fourth-quarter comeback to grab a 24-23 lead with 1:26 lead only to see the Rams march back down the field and win it, 26-24, on an Ethan Bronson 39-yard field goal that had plenty of room to spare.
For the second straight week, Xavier led 14-0 after the first quarter and allowed an opponent a massive run, this time 23 points. But again the Falcons rallied only to come up short, making them 2-3. … Sean Marinan did not coach Xavier on Friday as he was absent for personal reasons, according to the school.
… Zach Davis was doing his thing again Friday, and his 384-yard, six-TD performance (on 30 carries), might have been the most impressive of the bunch this season because it came in a 46-8 win at Branford against a Hornets team that had been playing impressive defense leading up to this week. Davis is now not only Sheehan’s career leader in rushing, but its single-season leader, with a half-season to play.
[aesop_video width=”720″ align=”center” src=”youtube” id=”KaMFmps_pU” caption=”Video of Sheehan’s 46-8 victory over Branford via the Record Journal.” disable_for_mobile=”on” loop=”on” autoplay=”on” controls=”on” viewstart=”on” viewend=”on”]
… Despite being wounded, Hand proved it could still be dangerous as it gave Shelton a good battle at the Surf Club, trailing just 14-12 in the third quarter before the Gaels prevailed 34-20. No rests in Division I.
… Improving Foran gave Hillhouse a battle, but with the game tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter, but a blocked punt led to an Acs touchdown and they eventually prevailed 34-21. Hillhouse is currently sixth in the Class M playoff race.
… Guilford took care of Creed 31-14 on Thursday night as they look to be improving (are are Hillhouse’s next opponent)
… West Haven had no trouble with Amity, as expected, rolling 50-7 to complete its non-division schedule.
… East Haven blew out Lyman Hall 34-12 to extend their SCC losing streak.
… Hamden’s defense was again stout against a Fairfield Prep team that will use the bye week to get healthy. But the Jesuits, still without quarterback Pat Conte (shoulder), topped the Dragons 28-6. Wilbur Cross vs. Creed and Sheehan vs. CREC are they only two SCC games on tap for this week.
Player of the Week
Zach Davis, Sheehan
We don’t like repeating players of the week, so maybe Davis can share this week’s award with his offensive line after running for 384 yards on 30 carries against Branford. The result itself was quite shocking, the Titans had 40 points by halftime in a 46-8 win.
The Sheehan coaching staff will probably be happier with the 8 than anything Davis did (although Davis is a key defender, too). Davis is now at 1,675 yards for the season and should shatter the SCC record of 2,402 barring injury.
Inside the Numbers
4 Number of SCC teams that would be in the CIAC Class LL playoffs if the season ended today (Shelton, West Haven, Cheshire, Fairfield Prep). Alas, there are many games between these teams (and other spoilers) remaining, so it probably won’t stay that way. Wilbur Cross, with just one loss, is a sleeper to make it into the Class LL playoffs as well.
Game of the (next) Week
West Haven at Notre Dame, Oct. 21, 7 p.m.
Would be a good time for the new bathrooms at Veterans Field to be in working order, as it should be packed for this rivalry. The Green Knights will probably be able to move the ball a bit, but can they slow West Haven down with a defense that has played well this season? Well, no one else has yet.
1) West Haven (5-0; Last Week 1) – If they roll over Notre Dame, should be serious talk of No. 1 in state polls.
2) Shelton (5-0; LW 2) – Showed how tough Division I can be, had a tough night and nearly paid for it with loss.
3) Notre Dame (3-2; LW 3) – Even with everything, still have West Haven, Xavier, and Cheshire to play this season.
4) Cheshire (4-1; LW 5) – Have certainly proven they long, but man that schedule is tough. Can 7-3 get it done?
5) Xavier (2-3; LW 4) – Schedule is a touch better going forward, but may be relegated to spoiler rest of way.
6) North Haven (3-2; LW 6) – Still a very good team, obviously, and could prove that with a few more wins.
7) Fairfield Prep (4-1; LW 7) – Biggest key for Jesuits is getting healthy, they’ll need everyone coming out of bye.
8) Wilbur Cross (3-1; LW 9) – No one is talking about Governors, but they might be by the time it’s Thanksgiving.
9) Hillhouse (4-1; LW 8) – Have not been really impressive since beating Hand and may need points with another loss.
10) Hand (1-4; LW 11) – Put together an admirable performance Friday, but still will find things tough next week.
11) Foran (2-3; LW 10) – Came close, but losses to two New Haven teams likely end of Lions playoff talk.
12) Sheehan (2-3; LW 17) – Should be able to make it three wins in a row this week against CREC Co-op.
13) Branford (3-2; LW 12) – Offense didn’t fix itself, while defense had a bad day, which equaled a rough, rough week.
14) Hamden (1-4; LW 14) – Have some chances to win coming up, but won’t get any easy ones, either.
15) East Haven (2-2; LW 16) – Another bye to get themselves healthy for what should be excellent Hamden matchup.
15) Amity (1-4; LW 13) – Hey, wasn’t this new schedule supposed to be easy?, the Spartans are surely asking.
16) Jonathan Law (2-3; LW 15) – Not a terrible performance against Cross and still some wins to e had, maybe.
18) Guilford (2-3; LW 19) – Indians also among the improving squads that make Division III so tough to call.
19) Creed (1-4; LW 18) – Not sure Howling Wolves thought it would be this tough and have Cross up next.
20) Lyman Hall (0-5; LW 20) – Once again the last team in the SCC to search for its first victory of the season.