When Harding’s football players arrived at practice Tuesday, they were greeted by boxes and boxes of sparkling white new cleats for ever on the team.
A just reward for their 20-13 victory Hillhouse, last year’s Class M state champions? Their first victory as a member of the Southern Connecticut Conference?
No, it was merely a perfect coincidence. Harding’s teachers had secured a grant to buy the sneakers. They just happened to arrive days after the program’s biggest week since claiming the old Constitution State Conference title in 2015.
“It’s been a good week for the program,” coach Eddie Santiago said. “No question.”
Whether fans noticed or not, this had been brewing for weeks.
Harding, which joined the SCC this season along with crosstown rival Bassick when the CSC reorganized and jettisoned the non-tech school programs, almost predictably started the season 0-4. This wasn’t the CSC anymore. Welcome to the SCC.
But all of their opponents came away from victories raving about the Presidents’ ability. North Haven’s Tony Sagnella said his team could take a lesson from Harding’s tenacity during a 55-27 win in Week 2. Hand’s Dave Mastroianni, too, admired the problems Harding gave his team in a 36-6 Week 4 win.
Foran’s Jeff Bevino raved about their talented players, who put a fright into the Lions in the second half of a 34-22 victory in Week 3. “I’ll tell you, they’ve got some good looking kids on that team,” Bevino said last week. “They’re going to win some ballgames.”
Then came Saturday, when Hillhouse — a four-time state champion over the last 11 years, including last year’s Class M title — came to Kennedy Stadium.
Harding jumped on Hillhouse with two quick touchdowns and weathered a late rally to beat the Academics. “We knew we could compete (in the SCC),” Santiago said. “Even though we were 0-4 we still felt strong. The kids still believed. And that’s what it’s all about. We just had to correct a couple of things and we finally put a complete game together. Our kids responded.”
The star of the game was junior back Coleman Adams, who had 189 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns and made a dazzling, one-handed catch in the third quarter to keep a clock-killing drive alive.
This was nothing new from the 6-foot, 185-pound Adams. He’s been Harding’s go-to man all season with 790 all-purpose yards, seven touchdowns, and an interception on defense.
“He’s been a stud for us,” said Santiago, noting that Adams has received some interest from UConn and Syracuse among other colleges. “He’s just a humble kid with a great work ethic. He comes out with his hard hat on. He comes to work every single day.”
Another bright performance was junior quarterback Kevin Bednarz, who completed 9-of-16 passes for 162 yards. He came through in big moments, like a 4th-and-15 pass to Adams in the third quarter to set up an 8-yard Adams touchdown in the third quarter. Bednarz ran in the 2-point conversion for the 20-13 Harding lead.
This all came after he threw a potentially disastrous interception touchdown to Hillhouse’s Terron Mallory in the second quarter.
“He played his best game of the season,” Santiago said of Bednarz. “He showed poise after that pick and stayed focused and led the team.”
Bednarz also ran for the game-clinching first down on a naked bootleg. “I told him, right now you have to win the game,” Santiago said. “And he looked at me and said, ‘Yes, sir.’
“All 11 of our guys were engaged on that play. It was a great fake right by Coleman, the linemen sold it and he was wide open to get the first down.”
Another standout was hulking, 6-foot-5, 265-pound lineman Daniel Daley, whose sack forced a fumble that Humberto Rodriguez recovered with under a minute left, setting up the final game-clinching drive. “That play energized all of us,” Santiago said.
Daley, a senior captain, had two sacks and five tackles, including three for a loss vs. Hillhouse. Santiago says his build and ability has caught the attention of Boston College and Bryant College, among others.
The win seemed to validate Harding’s admittance into the SCC club. After hearing of the praise from his colleagues, Santiago said, it was nice to prove them correct.
“The coaches in the SCC been really good to us. It’s heartwarming to hear,” he said. “I think we’ve earned some respect and proved that these kids really do play solid football. It makes you feel good to finally get that monkey of our back.”
As much as his players were delirious after the win, Santiago preached caution. They play Stratford in an interleague game on Friday and then face city (and fellow-SCC rival) Bassick the week after before a monster stretch vs. SCC Tier I teams Fairfield Prep and Cheshire.
“It was a big win and the kids were excited about it. Nobody gave us much of a chance,” Santiago said. “But we can’t be content. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Harding teachers BELIEVE! Donated cleats to the team! pic.twitter.com/crkolLyLgz
— Harding Presidents (@WHHSPresidents) October 10, 2017
Swarm of Hornets
Harding wasn’t the only winless SCC team to pull itself off the mat with a big victory. Over in Branford, John Limone’s Hornets earned an impressive 45-21 victory over Law at the McVeigh Complex.
Branford had scored just 54 points in its first four games and, predictably, lost all four. Yet the Hornets nearly matched that in their glorious first win since a 28-27 victory over Amity on Oct. 21 of last season.
“I think a lot of people were shocked,” said coach John Limone, whose team snapped an eight-game losing streak. “I think I was shocked by the (score), but I really wasn’t shocked at our ability to win. We aren’t very deep. We’re very young. But when we play, they can compete.
“Saturday morning film was actually fun for everybody. We were able to smile and laugh and take the emotion of losing out of correcting mistakes.”
Junior Jackson Seward ran for 200 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns. Daniel Thomas caught seven passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Sean Kelly, who had his best game to date, was 10-of-19 passing for 179 yards and a score.
Branford scored on its first possession — its first lead of the season — and led twice more before trailing 21-17 at halftime. “We were down, but we never felt like we were chasing,” Limone said.
After scoring to go ahead 24-21, Limone had senior Eleftherios Gionteris execute an onside kick. Branford recovered and went ahead by two scores on Seward’s 22-yard touchdown run.
All told, the Hornets scored 21 points in the third quarter and tacked on Rob Lionetti’s 33-yard interception touchdown in the fourth.
The stat of the night came from the defense, which forced six Law turnovers. Senior Parker Landsbach had two of Branford’s four interceptions. Branford’s special teams, which surrendered a kickoff return touchdown after its first score, rallied back with a blocked punt. Gionteris was 6-of-6 on extra points and had a field goal.
“The kids just seemed to have more confidence,” Limone said. “I wish I could take credit for it, but it was all them. They’d kind of had enough and got after Law pretty good.”
Branford (1-4) plays host to Fitch (4-0), which has already defeated Notre Dame-West Haven and NFA this year.
“Hopefully we’re moving in the right direction,” Limone said. “This is a big test and now it’s back to work. The kids feel a lot better knowing that they can do it, that they can go out an win on a Friday night.”
Policing the sidelines
Two incidents involving team parents marred two of the SCC’s biggest games last week.
In Shelton during a 31-20 victory over North Haven, a father came onto the Shelton sidelines during a stoppage in the third quarter, began swearing at the coaching staff and had to be removed, according to eyewitnesses.
In Cheshire, a West Haven team father was reportedly yelling invectives at the Cheshire players in the late stages of the Westies’ 27-0 victory. A photo of Cheshire athletic director Steve Trifone confronting the man was captured by Kyle Brennan of the Waterbury Republican-American on Twitter.
West Haven athletic director Jon Capone was at the game and said he wasn’t aware of the incident until the next day. “Steve (Trifone) never brought it up to me after the game,” Capone said. “So I can’t believe it could have been that bad. He handled it. I spoke with him the next day and he said he didn’t feel it was necessary to mention it.
“I wouldn’t tell Steve how to run his games, but we would give a warning to a parent if they were out of line or deal with it differently if it were at our place. …He isn’t the first and he won’t be the last parent to get wrapped up in their kids’ games.”
Shelton has beefed up its security in recent years, with guards at the gate to check bags and has volunteers patrolling the sidelines.
“We try to provide as safe and welcoming environment for our students, our athletes and parents and fans,” Shelton athletic director John Niski said. “We want to make sure people can come to a game and enjoy the game. We have protocols in place to head off any issues early on and try to be as proactive as we can to make it a good experience.
“But occasionally, people get emotional. Athletics brings out emotions. you do your best to try and talk to people while not embarrassing people and to have them not embarrass themselves.”
Niski said when issues arise with fans — student, parent or otherwise — he removes them from the situation, attempts to talk with them “to get to the core of the problem,” which is what he did Friday night.
“Most of the time it’s just the competitive nature of the game,” Niski said.
The SCC has a code of conduct, which asks students and fans to be on their best behaviors, that announcers read before the start of games. The CIAC last year formed the Class Act School program, which strives to promote sportsmanship and a code of conduct for all schools and their athletics programs. Shelton, North Haven West Haven and Cheshire are participants from the SCC.
“The biggest responsibility an athletic director has is hosting all of the things that go into a football game on Friday nights,” SCC Commissioner Al Carbone said. “People pay their money and think they can yell at kids, at coaches and officials. It’s one of the biggest problems we have in high school athletics. It’s kind of sad, but obviously it has become the norm that goes on in youth sports. It’s a concern because you see it every week.
“You see what the CIAC does with its Class Act programs, trying to focus on the students’ end of sportsmanship,” he added. “Now, most of the time, it’s not the students who are the problem.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 7, 2017
Shelton coach Jeff Roy is schedule for surgery on his right torn achilles tendon suffered during his team’s 31-20 victory over North Haven. Roy said he’ll coach Friday’s game at Newtown from the Blue and Gold Stadium press box and hopes to return to the sidelines for Shelton’s game over West Haven in two weeks. We’ll list him as probable for this week, then.
…There aren’t division championships, technically speaking, since not all of the teams in each Tier play each other. But here are your Tier leaders nonetheless: West Haven is alone atop Tier 1 (3-0). Hand (4-0) and Wilbur Cross are the two unbeaten Tier 2 teams. As for Tier 3, get this: Sheehan, Lyman Hall and Guilford are all unbeaten at 3-0.
…If you haven’t seen East Haven’s student section’s efforts to fundraise for an injured classmate, check that out here. Nice job, East Haven.
It’s the second and final, full round of SCC/SWC/ECC crossover games this week:
In SCC/ECC games on Friday, Bassick (0-5) travels to Ledyard (1-3), Fairfield Prep (4-1) plays at New London (1-3) and Branford (1-4) plays host to Fitch (4-0). On Saturday West Haven (5-0) hosts NFA (2-2).
In SCC/SWC games Friday, Brookfield (2-2) goes to Guilford (3-1); Bunnell (3-1) plays at Hand (4-1); Lyman Hall (3-2) goes to Bethel (0-4); Creed Co-Op (1-4) travels to Weston (2-2); Masuk (4-0) is at Amity (1-4); New Milford (1-3) is at Hamden (1-4); Pomperaug (1-3) travels to North Haven (3-2); New Fairfield (1-3) travels to Hillhouse (3-2) in a rematch of last year’s Class M quarterfinal. On Saturday, Harding (1-4) plays Stratford (1-3).
And, of course, Shelton (4-1) plays Newtown (3-1) in a rematch of last year’s Class LL quarterfinal on Friday night.
… Shelton reportedly had nine sacks in its victory over North Haven. Michael Cassinelli led the way with 2 1/2, Jaryd Witkowski had two and Jake Bretton 1 1/2. …Harding had a reported seven sacks in its victory over Hillhouse.
Inside the Numbers
126 — Total yards accumulated by Foran QB Jared Hubler (33 passing, 93 rushing) in the Lions’ 40-7 loss to Hand. The dynamic Foran senior had been averaging 356 total yards (173 passing, 182 rushing) heading into the game.
Player of The Week
Kyle Godfrey, West Haven
The senior had two of West Haven’s three interceptions and ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries to lead West Haven to an impressive 27-0 victory over Cheshire.
- Coleman Adams, Harding — Ran 12 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns, also caught four passes for 119 yards and a touchdown as the Presidents stunned Hillhouse, 20-13 Saturday.
- Jasiah Barnes, Wilbur Cross — Ran 28 times for 178 yards and a touchdown in Cross’ 14-12 win over Hamden.
- Terrence Bogan, Sheehan — The sophomore ran 18 times for 152 yards and all three of Sheehan’s touchdowns in a 21-7 victory over Creed/Career/Whitney Tech.
- Chris Chance, West Haven — Led West Haven with 164 yards on 20 carries in a 27-0 victory over Cheshire.
- Elijah Cherry, Wilbur Cross — Had 13 total tackles, including three for a loss in Cross’ 14-12 win over Hamden.
- Mike DeMateo, Notre Dame-WH — Made 7 solo tackles and had 14 overall, including four for a loss, in Notre Dame’s victory over Amity.
- Christopher Elias, Notre Dame-WH — Ran for 176 yards and four touchdowns on 11 carries, threw for 163 and a touchdown on an efficient 15-of-18 passing in Notre Dame’s victory over Amity.
- Georgio Ghazal, Shelton — Ran 13 times for 129 yards and two long touchdowns in Shelton’s victory over north Haven.
- Delvantae Hutton, Hand — Ran for 198 yards on 25 carries in Hand’s 40-7 victory over Foran.
- Justin Keith, Fairfield Prep — Ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns as the Jesuits steamrolled Xavier, 35-7.
- Mark Montano, North Haven — Threw for 77 yards on 3-of-3 passing and ran for 98 and two touchdowns in North Haven’s loss to Shelton.
- Gabriel Okeke, Hamden — Made 5 tackles and assisted on 10 others, also had two tackles for a loss in Hamden’s 14-12 loss to Wilbur Cross.
- Bruno Perlicki, Fairfield Prep — Punted five times for 217 yards, an average of 43.4 per kick, and had four inside the 20 during Prep’s victory over Xavier.
- Jackson Seward, Branford — Ran 22 times for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the Hornets’ eye-popping 45-21 victory over Law. He also had a sack.
- Luke Smith, Amity — Caught 10 passes for 106 yards in Amity’s loss to Notre Dame.
- Corey Sondak, Guilford — Ran for a touchdown and caught another in the Indians’ 35-0 victory over East Haven.
Game of the Week
Shelton at Newtown, Friday, 7 p.m.
This was a playoff game a year ago, but many of the names are different. While Shelton has done well so far in the SCC, Newtown hasn’t looked as strong as in seasons’ past. Their 34-14 loss to Xavier, which is now 2-3, doesn’t bode well for their chances vs. the rolling Gaels. If the Nighthawks want any more attention, they’ll have to prove it here.
Others to Watch
Brookfield at Guilford, Friday, 7 p.m. — Guilford is off to a fabulous start at 3-1 but, outside of a 17-0 loss to Shelton, really hasn’t played anyone of consequence just yet. Their season begins here against an established SWC power still trying to find its way back to prominence.
Norwich Free Academy at West Haven, Saturday, 7 p.m. — There’s a lot less buzz about this game given NFA’s recent troubles (re: getting hammered by Fitch) and West Haven’s wipeout of Cheshire, which beat NFA in Week 2. But since this is the only major-power game of the night, it’s worth your time.
- 1. WEST HAVEN (5-0, LW1) — NFA next, but we’re already looking forward to Week 7’s showdown with Shelton.
- 2. SHELTON (4-1, LW4) — They have the week off to get ready.
- 3. NORTH HAVEN (3-2, LW2) — Couldn’t get a key stop on defense vs. Shelton.
- 4. FAIRFIELD PREP (4-1, LW7) — The kids are all right.
- 5. CHESHIRE (3-2, LW3) — Those first two wins feel so long ago.
- 6. HAND (4-1, LW8) — It’s official. The Tigers don’t belong in Tier II.
- 7. WILBUR CROSS (4-1, LW7) — Thankfully, the Governors have an adequate kicking game.
- 8. XAVIER (2-3, LW 6) — It’s been real, fellas.
- 9. NOTRE DAME (2-3, LW) — Stockpile those inter-tier wins.
- 10. FORAN (3-2, LW11) — Foran’s a fabulous Class M team.
- 11. SHEEHAN (4-1, LW12) –– Only a teamwide bout of the flu will stop them from making playoffs.
- 12. HARDING (1-4, LW18) — Presidents kept fighting, and that win over Hillhouse is the payoff.
- 13. HILLHOUSE (3-2, LW 9) — Only a matter of time before the magic ran out.
- 14. HAMDEN (1-4, LW14) — Probably deserved a better fate vs. Wilbur Cross.
- 15. AMITY (1-4, LW 13) — Spartans haven’t been able to build on their early performance.
- 16. GUILFORD (3-1, LW 16) — We see you, Guilford. Take a crack at Brookfield.
- 17. LYMAN HALL (3-2, LW 17) — Trojans are unbeaten in three Tier III games. Who saw that coming?
- 18. BRANFORD (1-4, LW 21) — Where’s that been all season, Hornets? Welcome back.
- 19. LAW (2-3, LW 15) — We were way off on Law in the preseason
- 20. CREED/CAREER/WHITNEY (1-4, LW 19) — Defense hung tough vs. Sheehan.
- 21. EAST HAVEN (1-4, LW 20) — Yellowjackets can at least be thankful for their fan support.
- 22. BASSICK (0-5, LW22) — Have struggling Ledyard this week, perhaps they’ll find quarter there?