MIDDLETOWN >> It wasn’t exactly Joe Montana to Dwight Clark but when quarterback Austin Mann rolled to his right and hit Brian Owen in the corner of the end zone for an overtime touchdown, you got the feeling that this was a seminal moment in the history of Vinal Tech/East Hampton football.
Now, it was up to the Bellhawks defense, which played big all afternoon, to rise up for one more stop against Platt Tech (Milford). And they did.
When reserve quarterback Anthony Pizzola’s fourth down pass fell to the turf, Vinal Tech/East Hampton was above the .500 mark for the first time in the program’s four seasons as a co-op.
“How ’bout them Bellhawks!” bellowed Vinal Tech/East Hampton coach Joe Cefaratti as his players gathered near the end zone after their thrilling 13-6 upset victory Saturday at Palmer Field.
Vinal Tech/East Hampton went 7-23 during their three seasons in the Pequot Conference before making a move to the Constitution State Conference this year. The Bellhawks then opened their 2013 campaign with a 46-13 home loss against Abbott Tech.
“We’ve improved a lot since Abbott,” said Cefaratti. “Especially in the skill positions.”
Mann, a junior, missed the Abbott Tech game with an injury but returned a week later for the Bellhawks’ 19-12 win at Wolcott Tech. After a loss at Bullard-Havens, the Bellhawks (3-2) have responded with two straight wins.
“Mann could have went week one and we made the decision to keep him out because we knew we had nine more games to go,” Cefaratti explained. “I think it was the right decision and CJ (Lemere) is a good backup quarterback. (Ryan) Fazzino got banged up against Abbott too. But we’ve got everybody healthy now.”
Against Platt Tech, Fazzino, a senior running back and the team’s leading rusher, took a pitch and raced 66 yards for a touchdown on the game’s third play.
“I was coming around on the toss and I saw the hole and put my head down and all of a sudden, hey, I’m through,” said Fazzino. “I hammered down and went all the way.”
The Bellhawks missed the extra point kick and led 6-0.
The Panthers (1-4), who were coming off a 21-20 victory against Abbott Tech, answered with a 15-play, 70-yard scoring march. Senior quarterback Eric Sanchez capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge on fourth down. The Panthers also missed the extra point and it was tied at 6 with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
Both teams had trouble moving the football in the second half. Platt Tech, which outgained the Bellhawks, 189-157, had better field position but the Bellhawks defense – Bobby Hartt, Michael Greco, Eli Gates, Vincent Langenfield, Wilson Nickel, Eric Gillespie, Ed Carafeno, Cody Benrard, Austin Urban, Mann, Fazzino and Owen – stopped the Panthers twice on fourth down tries deep in their own territory.
“We were working on our fundamentals all week,” said Cefaratti. “We went on the tackling sled for a ton a time and the seven-man sled of hitting and rolling and just staying low and sealing and pinching and it showed today. It really did. (Platt’s) a good football team.”
The Bellhawks had a chance to win the game in regulation when Hartt recovered a fumble at the Platt Tech 25-yard line with two minutes left. But the Bellhawks drive stalled at the 12-yard line and Langenfield’s 30-yard field goal attempt sailed under the crossbar with only 15 seconds left.
“We actually practice that and he hits them,” said Cefaratti. “It’s a concentration thing.”
The Bellhawks had the first possession in overtime, a Kansas tiebreaker whereby each team gets the ball at the 10-yard line until the tie is broken.
“I’m going out there and I’m saying ‘Kansas tiebreaker’ and it’s all going through my head and all coming back to me,” said Cefaratti, who was never involved in an overtime game in 30 years of coaching. “What am I going to run? Should I keep the ball on the ground? Should I try and pound it? And I said, ‘No, we’ve worked our bootlegs all week long.’ We’re throwing the boot on the first play and (Owen) was wide open. Austin put it right where it had to be and Brian made a great catch.”
“I opened up to my right and I was scanning the field and coach said if you see the green you better take it,” said Mann, who completed 3 of 8 passes for 32 yards, all to Owen. “I see Brian with a little window and I just gave him a nice toss right in the chest and my emotions were off the charts. I knew we had this game.”
Langenfield drilled the extra point kick and the Bellhawks led 13-6.
Platt Tech’s Rmani Griffin (48 yards on 11 carries) gained seven yards on two carries to get the ball to the 3-yard line. But Sanchez lost two yards on third down. Sanchez (3 of 6 for 37 yards) was hurt on the play and was replaced by Pizzola. The Panthers tried a fourth down pass but Urban put heavy pressure on Pizzola and the pass fell incomplete.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Fazzino, who finished with 105 yards on 18 carries. “Our defense really stepped it up. We wanted this win. This is such a great time to make it to this step for this program. I feel like this is going to give us momentum to the next game and we’re just going to keep pounding the wins.”