NORTH BRANFORD >> Even without leading rusher Josh Melaccio, the North Branford football team pushed its way past Gilbert-Northwestern in a key Pequot Conference contest.
Behind a big and physical offensive line, the Thunderbirds responded after falling behind early and cruised to a 42-25 victory in a battle of unbeaten teams Friday at Colafati Field.
With Melaccio inactive due to illness, junior running back Cory Seymour, who was also under the weather, scored twice and junior quarterback Eddie Miller threw for a touchdown and ran for another for North Branford.
The Yellowjackets hung in, cutting the lead to 20-13 at one point in the third quarter, but were overmatched and eventually worn down by the North Branford offensive line — Lou Distasio, John Burke, Mike Kaiser, Jake Sidle and Adam Campagna.
“They pushed us around a lot,” Gilbert coach Scott Salius said. “North Branford is a big, strong team. We knew that coming in. They’re very physical. They have us by about a 50-pound average.”
Although North Branford lost most of its skill players from a 12-1 team whose only loss was to Ansonia in the Class S championship game, the line is experienced.
“That’s a super group of kids,” North Branford coach Mark Basil said. “They’re very strong. They move pretty good for big guys. That is who we are. Everything we do comes through our line, offensively and defensively.”
Gilbert took a 7-0 lead when Paxton Franklin recovered teammate John Lippincott’s fumble in the end zone. But North Branford scored the next three touchdowns to take a 20-7 lead at halftime. Miller connected with Austin Calamita on a 62-yard touchdown pass while Shelby Franklin and Seymour each had rushing touchdowns.
The Yellowjackets cut the lead to seven on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Lippincott to Paxton Franklin, but North Branford went up by 15 after Seymour’s 1-yard scoring run and a Miller-to-Calamita two-point conversion.
Seymour, who played despite a fever, rushed 11 times for 36 yards. Nick Sagnella and Miller had touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. Miller was 7 of 10 passing for 151 yards and added 65 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
“Ed’s been stepping up for us,” Seymour said. “He’s going to be a good quarterback.”
Lippincott completed 14 of 34 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Seth Dayton. Paxton Franklin had a sack while Mitchell Jackson recovered a fumble in the loss.
The Thunderbirds contained senior running back Tony Ortiz, who finished with 82 yards on 19 carries.
“They took our run game away,” Salius said. “They overplayed the outside and had the ability to beat us up on the inside, so we really couldn’t run inside or outside.”
North Branford 42, Gilbert 25
Gilbert 7 0 12 6 — 25
No. Branford 14 6 8 14 — 42
G—Paxton Franklin 1 fumb ret (Tucker Kreh kick)
N—Austin Calamita 62 pass from Eddie Miller (run failed)
N—Shelby Franklin 22 run (Nick Sagnella run)Second quarter
N—Cory Seymour 3 run (run failed)Third quarter
G—Paxton Franklin 31 pass from John Lippincott (kick failed)
N—Cory Seymour 1 run (Calamita pass from Miller)
G—Seth Dayton 59 pass from John Lippincott (run failed)Fourth quarter
N—Nick Sagnella 2 run (Shelby Franklin kick)
N—Eddie Miller 5 run (Franklin kick)
G—Seth Dayton 23 pass from John Lippincott (pass failed)
Team records: North Branford 3-0; Gilbert 2-1