Guilford will attempt to pull off a two-for-one when it hosts Hillhouse on Friday.
The Indians (4-4) can win their first division title since 1999, which was also the last time Guilford defeated the Academics, when the teams square off in this SCC Division II West showdown.
“No Guilford (football) team has ever won an outright division title,” Guilford coach Tom Unger said. “It would mean a lot, it’s something no one else has ever done.”
The Indians shared the SCC Hammonasset title in both 1998 and 1999. Earning the division title with a victory over Hillhouse, the defending Class M champion, would be especially meaningful for Guilford.
“To get a win against Hillhouse would be key for this program,” Unger said. “We know we can compete against these teams, but we need to step up and start winning these kinds of games.”
Since Unger took over in 2008, the Indians have hovered around .500 but have been competitive against SCC Division II opponents. Guilford, though, is still in search of that elusive victory over one of the league’s more established programs.
Last season the Indians missed a field goal late in the fourth quarter and ended up on the losing end of a 20-18 decision to Hillhouse.
“Close doesn’t get you very far,” Unger said. “Last year is last year. We know we can compete with them, but you have to truly want it. We can’t wish for these wins, we have to go out and want it and play for it.”
Despite a 3-5 record, Hillhouse remains a dangerous team. The Academics are led by senior Harold Cooper, one of the state’s best running backs, who has rushed 120 times for 1,151 yards and 14 touchdowns this season and for more than 6,000 yards in his career.
“Trying to defend Cooper causes many sleepless nights,” Unger said. “I probably won’t get a lot of sleep this week.”
Junior quarterback Corey Maddox does an effective job of directing the offense, while senior lineman Tarrol Stafford and junior lineman Jalen Gardner lead a tenacious defense.
“Their record isn’t where they’ve been (in the past), but they’re an outstanding team,” Unger said. “They have great size up front. It’s going to be a challenge. Their size and speed is still top-notch in our division.”
Guilford has some talented skill players of its own, including senior quarterback Joe Nault, who rushed for 218 yards and five touchdowns in a victory over Law last week.
“He does everything we ask him to do,” Unger said. “He runs the offense well. He has a good arm and he’s a good decision maker; he’s more than just a runner. He also plays strong safety and he always knows where everyone is supposed to be in coverage. He’s a smart football player.”
Senior running back David Knapp is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing, while senior fullback Eric Zergiebel has excelled as the Indians’ primary blocking back.
“Eric rushed for over 1,000 yards last season,” Unger said. “But we made changes offensively and he’s more of a traditional fullback this year. He’s done a great job of blocking for his teammates.”
Guilford opened the season losing three of its first four games, which included losses to SCC Division I powers Shelton (6-2) and West Haven (7-1). Since, the Indians have won three of four.
“Like everyone else in Division II, the schedule week in and week out is very challenging,” Unger said. “But this is such a good group of kids to coach.”
No Time to Hyde
Hyde hopes to snap a three-game losing streak when it ventures out of the Pequot Conference on Friday to face SCC member Lyman Hall. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Wallingford.
The extra week in the schedule this season allowed teams to play an 11th game. Hyde coach Melvin Wells said New Haven citywide athletics coordinator Joe Canzanella was instrumental in setting up the contest with Lyman Hall.
“We thought it would be a good match up for us,” Wells said. “We’re a small school and they’re a young, up-and-coming team.”
Lyman Hall (2-6) has won two straight after snapping a 16-game losing streak. The Howling Wolves have dropped three in a row after starting the season 4-1. During the current losing streak, Hyde lost the three games by a combined eight points.
The Howling Wolves, who advanced to the Class S state semifinals last season, suffered heavy graduation losses and Wells wasn’t quite sure what to expect this season.
“We’re young and inexperienced,” Wells said. “It’s been a very interesting ride. We have a lot of young players and our veteran guys are pretty inexperienced.”
Wells noted that only one player on the roster had scored a varsity touchdown before this year.
“That lack of experience is hard to teach,” Wells said.
Junior Dwayne Hunter-Parker is in his first year as the team’s quarterback. Hunter-Parker leads the team in rushing yards and touchdowns.
“Dwayne is new to the position,” Wells said. “He’s taking it on whole-heartily, and he’s doing a good job of leading the team.”
Senior running back Brandon Brantle, junior wide receivers Ronnie Freeman and Carlton Tillery and junior center Quinton Thompson also contribute on offense for Hyde, which is averaging 266 rushing yards per game.
“We don’t have the explosiveness we had last year, but we’re elusive and relatively fast,” Wells said. “We do a lot of good things, but with the lack of experience we sometimes make silly mistakes. We’ve been moving the ball but the red zone kind of kills us.”
Senior linebacker Jaquaine Manley, Hunter-Parker (safety) and Freeman (cornerback) lead a defense that has allowed just 12 points per game.
Despite some growing pains, Wells believe the experience the underclassmen have gained this year will be beneficial in the future.
“Most of these guys are going to be back next year, which is nice,” Wells said. “This process has been a great lesson, a good learning tool.”
Cheshire to honor Vets
Cheshire will honor veterans during its home contest against Amity on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. All military veterans will be allowed to enter the game free of charge.
Each player on both teams will wear the name of a veteran (past relative, brother, parent, friend) on their jersey. The veterans are invited down to the field before kickoff where the Cheshire High band will perform patriotic songs.