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There have certainly been some SCC classics at Bowen Field over the years. The most prominent, recent one that comes to mind was actually a Hillhouse loss in 2012 when the Acs were on the verge of an upset over Xavier before the Falcons stormed back from a 28-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 50-49.
Any trip to Bowen Field featured the talented Hillhouse band — you may have seen them on national television with the Yale basketball team in the NCAA Tournament this spring — as well as anything you could have seen at any other facility. But there’s a reason why a legendary book and subsequent move and television series was called ‘Friday Night Lights.’
Although it opened in 1947, Bowen Field had never seen a game played under the lights. There was a time before the SCC that many of you may remember where many schools played their games on Saturday mornings, even teams like West Haven and Hamden. But those days were long ago. In fact, since Hamden got lights with its new stadium more than a decade ago, the New Haven schools were the last in the SCC to play in the day.
As of Friday night, though, Hillhouse can now add its name to the Friday night club with a 35-0 win over Creed, which was making its SCC debut.
You’ll forgive people in New Haven for being skeptical that Friday would ever come. We don’t need to get into the details of the four years between Bowen Field shutting down and its reopening for last year’s Thanksgiving game, but you can read about them here or here if you wish.
While everything appeared ready for Bowen Field to host night games months ago, given everything that’s happened, you could see the relief in all the dignitaries at the ribbon cutting ceremony that the day was finally here.
While obviously it gives the Hillhouse football team, as well as Wilbur Cross and Creed on occasion, a beautiful new home with brand new lights, it is also a boon to the community at large.
One presenter mentioned she would no longer have to go to Hamden to walk on a track and Bowen Field will also be home to both boys and girls soccer in the city as well as some lacrosse and track meets in the spring. Like the neighboring New Haven Athletic Center, the stadium is a positive symbol for the community.
While much of the recent history may be lost on the current players and student body of the schools in question (no one on the field Friday night was in high school when Hillhouse last played a non-Thanksgiving game there in 2012), for those that have been around, that might be a nice price to pay if the norm becomes like Friday night: a near sell-out crowd sitting in brand new bleachers to watch two New Haven schools play.
“What more could you ask for?,” Hillhouse senior Matt Brehon said afterward.
It is still a shame that three classes of New Haven kids lost their chance to play on their home field. But for 2016 and beyond, the new Bowen Field is open for business.
And that’s a really good thing for both New Haven and the SCC.
I tried to point out when making Division I Power Rankings that the bottom of Division I could probably be the top of several other league in the state, and darn if Cheshire didn’t go out and prove it Friday night by taking down North Haven 24-21.
The Indians’ last regular season loss was in 2014 and the Rams became the first SCC team to win at Vanacore Field since October of 2012 (Hand).
How did they do it? Well, they channeled the team that nearly knocked Southington off last Thanksgiving and took advantage of a couple of North Haven mistakes and did enough defensively to make the Indians earn everything they got.
Jack Raba took his proverbial (and some literal) lumps last season, throwing six interceptions in blowout losses to Notre Dame and Xavier before tearing his ACL against Sheehan in November.
The Rams struggled offensively alongside Raba in 2015, breaking the 20-point mark just once in the season’s first eight weeks against the typically brutal SCC Division I slate. The running game also didn’t offer much relief, with Cheshire’s leading rusher averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.
Raba did not play in last year’s Thanksgiving game, but he answered any questions about his health Friday, completing 15-of-20 passes for 197 yards, 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Cheshire still only rushed for 95 yards as a team, but its defense did the rest, stopping North Haven twice in the final minutes to preserve the victory.
“It was awesome,” Raba said. “It was definitely a team win, everyone contributed. There were some great calls by the coaches and the offensive line gave me enough time to get back and pass and they did a great job of run-blocking as well. The receivers are just such great athletes, they go out and make plays for me and it makes my job easy.”
In the end, preseason predictions are just that: guesses and they are made to be put on locker room walls and used as motivation for underdogs. Cheshire did exactly that and deserves all the credit in the world for doing so.
Meanwhile, North Haven — in its first game in Division I — learned a lesson that its coaching staff (most of whom have been there for a long time) certainly know. Glory, especially playing the schedule they will this season, can be fleeting.
“I saw growth today,” North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said. “I saw us get guttier. I saw some play on defense that I haven’t seen in the preseason. We’re moving in the right direction.”
Hillhouse-Creed saw the SCC debut of running time in the fourth quarter and it was welcomed by pretty much all parties on a steamy night that featured the Creed trainer running about five miles back and forth from the sidelines to deal with leg cramps and injuries. The clock ran, the game ended quicker, and the awkward moments were far fewer.
… Notre Dame deserves credit for playing six-time defending Rhode Island champion Bishop Hendricksen in its opener. But now it has a loss on its ledger already after falling 26-21. But things get much easier next week when they travel to Shelton, amirite?
… Speaking of the Gaels, they appear to have reloaded and dismantled now-Division II Amity 42-6 Friday.
… Our first overtime game of the campaign was a heartbreaking one for Hand, who really could have used a confidence-builder to start 2016 and instead got a 26-20 defeat at the hands of Patrick Conte and Fairfield Prep.
On the plus side, the Tigers may have found a new running back in Mike Burchell, who was a defensive star last season. As tough a loss as it was for the Tigers, it’s that big a win for the Jesuits, who also had struggled at times last season. Life in Division I.
… Zach Davis ran for 303 yards, but Sheehan lost to East Haven 35-27 in what seems to be a yearly dilemma for the Titans, keeping opponents off the board. The Yellowjackets trailed 13-0 early and there was a time not so long ago that might have been enough to keep them down for the rest of the night. No more.
… West Haven spoiled Tom Dyer’s Hamden debut with a 42-0 rout. This may be a season for Dyer to figure out where he stands, although there will be much easier and less athletic opponents than the Blue Devils down the road.
… Guilford and Law might have played the game of the night if you didn’t notice, with Indians quarterback Aaron Korik rushing for four touchdowns and Ben Currier scoring the game winner with 1:28 remaining, spoiling Erik Larka’s Law debut.
… Branford — whose home field is off limits for a few weeks — struggled for a while on Lyman Hall’s new Fitzgerald Field, before prevailing 27-12.
… For those of you who overheated at Friday’s game, the forecast is for much cooler, seasonable weather this Friday.
Player of the Week
Jasiah Barnes, Wilbur Cross
Barnes is only a sophomore, but saw significant time as a freshman and ran for 227 yards in the Governors’ 40-21 win over Foran Friday afternoon. The result was a little surprising, especially because Cross quarterback Zion Setal is lost for the season with a knee injury. But, as usual, Cross will probably give people fits, especially at home.
Inside the Numbers
2 The number of playoff teams from last season (Notre Dame, North Haven) that have a loss on their records already with nine games still left to play. Long way to go, obviously, but the margin for error has just shrunk considerably.
Game of the Week
West Haven at Xavier
Both opened up with blowout victories that ended in shutouts (Xavier beat NFA 36-0), and both should be ranked in the state polls when they take the field Friday night. If they have a weakness, it’s defensively for West Haven and offensively for Xavier. The Falcons held NFA to 20 total yards, which may be a little more difficult to do with the Blue Devils’ speed. Xavier will likely also be without Nate Snyder, who was injured Friday.
1) West Haven (1-0; Last Week 1) — If you don’t tackle them, they’re going to put up points in an awful hurry.
2) Shelton (1-0; LW 5) — Bigger test this week, but quite the impressive opening for a team that graduated so many.
3) Xavier (1-0; LW 6) — Doesn’t matter who it is, holding an opponent to 20 total yards for a game is great job.
4) Notre Dame (0-1; LW 2) — Kudos for scheduling the game in Rhode Island, although not sure how many options.
5) Cheshire (1-0; LW 8) — Rest of season will indicate whether this will be an upset or just the natural order now.
6) Fairfield Prep (1-0; LW 4) — Better to struggle and win than opposite, especially in the way that they did.
7) Hillhouse (1-0; LW 1) — Especially put Creed away, but there were some moments of doubt in first half.
8) North Haven (0-1; LW 3) — Indians now have a loss in regular season for first time in two years, so we’ll see.
9) Hand (0-1; LW 7) — Started last season 5-0 before running into tough schedule, so maybe get it out of the way?.
10) Wilbur Cross (1-0; LW 4) — Definitely a team that will like the new divisional setup better than the old one.
11) Foran (0-1; LW 3) — Did not look in sync at all in opener on a hot day, but should improve as season progresses.
12) East Haven (1-0; LW 3) — Still finding ways to win games like they did for most of last season until the end.
13) Branford (1-0; LW 1) — Not the prettiest of victories, but where they were a few years ago, they’ll take it, too.
14) Amity (0-1; LW 5) — Division II might not be that much easier for Spartans if they don’t improve from last year.
15) Hamden (0-1; LW 2) — I’m sure Dragons figured opener would be difficult and now get North Haven next.
16) Creed (0-1; LW 2) — Had moments that looked very good and Jhavion Haddock will put up numbers against people.
17) Sheehan (0-1; LW 4) — At some point, they’ll have to play some defense if they want to move up these rankings.
18) Guilford (1-0; LW 5) — Nice to get an opening win after last season no matter how they had to get it.
19) Jonathan Law (0-1; LW 6) — Some positive signs in the loss, should reap benefits of Division III schedule.
20) Lyman Hall (0-1; LW 7) — Showed some fight, and at least they had their own field to play on Opening Night.