WEST HAVEN >> For only the second time in the 14-year history of the Harvest Bowl, neither North Branford nor Hyde were advancing to the state football playoffs.
And while a number of players on both rosters will return next season, for a handful, Wednesday night was the end of the line. No one had a more memorable finale than North Branford running back Josh Melaccio.
Melaccio rushed for a game-high 138 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, as North Branford shut out Hyde in the second half to win going away, 36-14 at a windy and rainy Veterans Stadium.
“There is a certain gear you hit when you realize it’s your last game. I think everybody hit that gear,” Melaccio said.
It was the fourth straight win in the series for the Thunderbirds (7-4), meaning Melaccio’s senior class never lost to the Howling Wolves (5-6), who still lead the overall series 8-6.
Jacob Sidle recovered a pair of blocked punts in the third quarter for the Thunderbirds. The first one led to North Branford’s go-ahead touchdown, a 21-yard run by Cory Seymour that put the T’birds up 16-14.
Hyde was able to survive the other blocked punt deep in its own territory, but could do nothing on offense. Austin Calamita then returned the ensuing punt 58 yards for a touchdown to put North Branford up 22-14 with 10:39 remaining in the game.
“Those plays helped ignite a little excitement,” North Branford coach Mark Basil said. “Then they started to believe and take advantage.”
After another three and out for the Howling Wolves, and yet another blocked punt, North Branford took over on Hyde’s 21 and Melaccio scored two plays later. He also ran in the 2-point conversion to put the T’birds up 30-14.
“In this game, we needed a lot of momentum,” North Branford defensive lineman John Burke said. “With those blocked punts, we really stepped up the momentum for our team and got some crucial points that we needed.”
Said Hyde coach Melvin Wells: “It kind of shows itself when you really lack a lot of experience. The weather in itself kind of hurt and when good things don’t continue to happen for you, you kind of waver a little bit. These guys (North Branford) have a really nice football team and they took advantage of our mistakes.”
Melaccio’s last touchdown came with 3 minutes left.
“There is good talent and strength on this team,” Basil said. “We have to develop a stronger football IQ because we have trouble with that.”
Hyde scored both of its touchdowns in the second quarter off of miscues by the Thunderbirds. A bad snap on a punt attempt, followed by punter Eddie Miller drawing an intentional grounding penalty for throwing the ball out of bounds, put the ball on North Branford’s 13.
Four plays later, Juanito Ortiz Jr. scored from 1 yard out and Brandon Brantle tacked on the two-point conversion.
Jhavion Haddock recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff for Hyde. Ronnie Freeman, who led Hyde with 91 rushing yards, then went 58 yards for a touchdown on the very next play.
North Branford 36, Hyde 14
(at West Haven)
North Branford 8 0 8 20 — 36
Hyde 0 14 0 0 — 14
N—Josh Melaccio 6 run (Melaccio run)
H—Juanito Ortiz 1 run (run failed)
H—Ron Freeman 58 run (Ortiz run)
N—Cory Seymour 21 run (Melaccio run)
N—Austin Calamita 58 punt return (run failed)
N—Josh Melaccio 15 run (Melaccio run)
N—Josh Melaccio 17 run (run failed)
Team records: Hyde 5-6; North Branford 7-4