As it dragged on a bit, the Foran postgame chant lost its rhythm and turned into a fairly tough tongue twister.
Everyone involved hopes it gets considerably longer and more difficult by Thanksgiving and beyond.
Jeff Bevino leads his Lions in a “Cha-ching” for every win they pick up. After obliterating New London Friday night — 53-28 was the final, but it was 53-6 after three quarters — the count had gone to five.
Foran has somewhat quietly had three-straight winning seasons and five-of-seven. The Lions should make it four in the next few weeks. But a berth in the postseason has remained elusive. Despite having one of the most prolific offenses in the league year in and year out, led by the current top two passers in SCC history: Jake Kasuba and Jake White, and posting big wins like upending Notre Dame 50-35 in 2012, Foran’s Achilles heel in its big games has always been on the defensive side of the ball.
Not this season. The Lions have allowed 66 points in 2015, but even that number is a bit misleading, with most of them coming after the varsity has left the field in blowouts. Bevino insists there is no secret formula, but says bringing in a couple of defensive-minded assistant coaches helped, as did just having personnel that is a little bigger and stronger. Having good numbers doesn’t hurt, either. The Lions have more than 60 names on the roster, a far cry from when Bevino first arrived a decade ago.
Bevino says if there’s a day his defense began to come of age, it was in October of 2013 when the Lions held Harold Cooper to just 18 yards rushing in a 34-6 win. Foran gave North Haven a tough time before falling two weeks later and finished 8-3, one game out of playoff contention. Even with Kasuba, the Lions were inexperienced on offense last season, and were shut out twice by North Haven and Trinity Catholic on their way to a 6-5 record.
“Our defensive staff has grown and done real well,” Bevino said. “Again, we got some kids that are really physical and it all comes down to the kids you have. They listen to the coaches and they believe in what we’re telling them, and that’s the key. I think it goes back to the day we held one of the best running backs ever in this league to 18 yards rushing. Our defense has done a great job.”
This may be the season that Foran finally finds the balance to get back to the Class M playoffs. Junior Lance DiNitale, Kasuba’s understudy, had only seven career pass attempts coming into the fall but has grown in confidence every week. He’s thrown for five touchdown passes against the Whalers, including three in a crazy second quarter that saw Foran score 34 points, 27 in a four-minute span.
Helping DiNitale are many of the players that suffered their growing pains last year, including junior Brett Huber, who caught just 17 passes in 2014 but now has four straight 100-yard games. He brought in six passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns Friday and also throwing a touchdown pass on on his first career attempt during an end around. Huber has pulled in 40 passes for 751 yards at the season’s halfway mark.
Huber is complemented by senior Colin Firmender (who caught a TD pass) and R.J. Balado, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in every 2015 contest after amassing just 176 yards in all of 2014. All of this success points to a veteran offensive line, who has given DiNitale and crew time Kasuba didn’t necessarily have in the pocket a year ago.
“We want to set the tone on defense,” Huber, who also plays defense, said. “Steve (Lynch) had that first pick and that really got us going and we were rolling from there.”
Critics will surely point out that no one Foran has defeated this season (even perennial state power New London, who fell to 1-4) has more than one win to their credit. West Haven comes to town Friday, followed by Division II powers North Haven and Hillhouse and upstart East Haven, and it’s likely that without the points help from teams it has already beaten, the Lions will probably have to finish 8-2 to make the Class M playoffs.
But the Lions are well aware they have a chance to silence just about everyone when they take on West Haven, a team they battled relatively tough a year ago before falling 38-28, but the Westies 57 points on the Lions two seasons ago at Ken Strong Stadium.
“Big game, Homecoming for us. We’re going to give them something,” Huber said.
As has been discussed here many times previously, the odds aren’t necessarily with Division II teams in crossover games, so much so that West Haven has never lost one in the 12 years they have existed. But there’s a first time for everything, right? Including Foran going to the postseason as a member of the SCC?
“Well, if we do six cha-chings next week, I’ll be a really happy man, and we’ll go from there,” Bevino said.
ECC-SCC MERGER? OR… NOT
There seemed to be credible information that Norwich Free Academy was on the verge of finally filling the 20th spot for football in the SCC, which seemed to make football sense if not geographic sense. NFA is a massive school and would go to Division I, which meant someone (Wilbur Cross raise your hand) would move to Division II and that would be that.
Of course, that is never only that and there were enough objections on both sides to kill the deal before it got started. It wasn’t the first time that an SCC-ECC merger was proposed, and perhaps not the last. But it does illustrate the red tape (and people holding such red tape) that must be gotten through before something like the district model can become a reality in Connecticut.
Change is hard, and as I’ve said before, it will likely take the CIAC stepping in and mandating schools being in leagues with those of similar size for it to happen. And that does not seem forthcoming anytime soon.
Ironically, the SCC and ECC had four matchups last weekend with teams in desperate need of games because of the mandatory bye week and the FCIAC cutting its season to nine games so it could have a title contest. We know Foran beat New London, Xavier held off NFA in a sloppy game in Norwich, 18-6, the Wildcats turning the ball over seven times. There was some built-in excuse that neither team had its starting quarterback, but the Falcons won’t be given much of a chance to knock Shelton off this week even if the game will be held at Palmer Field. But, as you don’t have to tell the Magic 8-Ball, stranger things have happened.
Turnovers were also the story as East Lyme knocked off Jonathan Law, 28-12, in Milford. The Vikings got both first-half touchdowns directly off Law giveaways, and the struggling Law offense couldn’t quite get back into the game in the second half.
Meanwhile, Guilford gave Fitch quite a game, leading for much of the first half before eventually falling 31-20. Jack Jankura was 21-of-35 for 222 yards. Fitch was coming off a win over NFA and is now 4-1, so can we consider this the dreaded moral victory for the SCC? We’ll let Fitch quarterback Robert Duncan have the last words, which SCC Commissioner Al Carbone might appreciate over his Monday morning coffee.
“It means a lot,” Duncan said. “We know these guys come out here and they play, like, (in) a tougher conference, and we knew all week they were going to be tough. But we came out with the victory.”
East Haven’s 35-0 win over Lyman Hall Thursday. Video via Sportzedge.com
For the final time, the bye week was difficult to take for fans who didn’t exactly have too many great games to choose from. But the balance between safety and keeping the game the way it is means this is what we have, and we will once a year. And we move on …
…There was one game Thursday, East Haven blanking Lyman Hall 35-0. Now healthy, the Yellowjackets are 4-1 and will be favorites to be 5-1 before taking on Foran. As I have said before, they don’t play Hillhouse, already won their crossover game, and got North Haven out of the way. Yes, the record of the teams they’ve beaten is 3-18 (Foran’s is 4-17 if you’re scoring at home). But with a program that didn’t win a single game against anyone from 2007-09 and should post its first winning record since 2000, there will be few apologies from Crisafi Field …
…Branford is in the win column this season and it came with a rather impressive 25-12 win over Sheehan. It was especially impressive on the defensive end, where the Titans didn’t score in the first half. Just as it’s tough to gauge Foran because of opponents’ lack of success, the same holds true for the Hornets, who played a brutal first half of the season and should now that includes Law and Lyman Hall in the next two weeks …
…Nick Franchuk ran for 263 more yards on just 19 carries as Fairfield Prep overwhelmed Amity 42-7 basically between the tackles. Without quarterback Patrick Conte, Prep has basically been written off as far as the postseason is concerned. But you can bet North Haven will know they will be in for a test at Vanacore Field Friday in a game that might just be over by 9 p.m. with the over/under on passes about 6 …
…Hmmm, two good crossover games next week. How about that?
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Zach DeGoursey, Branford
Others may have had more impressive numbers, but DeGoursey’s 37 carries and 161 yards were huge in Branford picking up its first win of the campaign, 25-12, over Sheehan Friday night.
Spirits should be up at Branford’s practices this week.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
0 Number of losses West Haven has suffered to Division II teams since the SCC scheduling format was changed in 2004.
The Blue Devils are the only team remaining who can say that, and the streak will be put on the line Friday night at 5-0 Foran.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Notre Dame at Hand, Friday, 7 p.m.
After last week’s lack of choices, there are plenty this Friday. But we’ll go with the Surf Club where Hand gets a chance to dispel the notion that they are Paper Tigers (see what I did there?) by knocking off a desperate ND squad.
Desperate, of course, because another loss likely all but ends their playoff hopes, and they haven’t been beaten yet at full strength. Of course, Hand could be at 100 percent for the first time all season, too.
- 1) North Haven (5-0; Last Week 1) – How do Indians handle being heavy favorites against a good Prep team?
- 2) Shelton (5-0; LW 2) – Beat West Haven since we last talked. And did it in pretty impressive fashion as well.
- 3) Notre Dame (3-2; LW 3) – Sometimes being a desperate team can be a good thing. We’ll find out Friday.
- 4) Fairfield Prep (3-2; LW 6) – Can start to dream of playoff berth if it can escape North Haven with victory.
- 5) West Haven (3-2; LW 4) – Will need to find a pass to sure up passing defense if it wants to stop Foran.
- 6) Hand (5-0; LW 5) – Have not defeated a team with a winning record yet this season, but could change that.
- 7) Foran (5-0; LW 9) – Twenty-seven points in four minutes is pretty impressive, don’t care who it’s against.
- 8) Xavier (3-3; LW 7) – Everything difficult for Falcons right now, but they’ll take winning over losing, thanks.
- 9) Hillhouse (4-1; LW 8) – Acs toughest games are still to come as well, but not necessarily this week.
- 10) Cheshire (2-3; LW 10) – Rams get the dreaded 3:30 p.m. game at Cross that may need the temporary lights.
- 11) East Haven (4-1; LW 11) – Yellowjackets roll on, and really don’t care what you say about their schedule.
- 12) Hamden (1-4; LW 12) – New field is ready to go and has already hosted soccer games. May give a boost.
- 13) Wilbur Cross (2-3; LW 13) – Schedule is brutal down stretch, so they would like to pick up win over Cheshire.
- 14) Amity (0-5; LW 14) – Big game for both Amity and Hamden programs this week in Woodbridge.
- 15) Guilford (1-5; LW 15) – Indians did the SCC proud, even if they struggled to finish Fitch in second half.
- 16) Branford (1-4; LW 19) – Hey Branford, that 1 before the 4 looks much better than a 0, doesn’t it?
- 17) Sheehan (1-4; LW 16) – Titans’ offensive resurgence lasted exactly one week. Frustration continues.
- 18) Lyman Hall (1-4; LW 17) – On the plus side, only two more “home” games at Sheehan this season.
- 19) Jonathan Law (0-5; LW 18) – Still a few chances at a win in there, but they are getting fewer by the week.