MIDDLETOWN – A relentless ground attack and an almost impenetrable line. What more did North Haven need Friday night?
The Indians produced touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and topped 400 yards rushing for the second straight week in a 42-14 SCC Tier 1 victory over Xavier at Larry McHugh Field.
The Indians, who rushed for 411 yards last week in handing Sheehan its first loss, totaled 421 yards on 43 carries (and only three pass attempts), with seniors Jaden Watson and Albert Hooks each topping the 100-yard mark and scoring two touchdowns apiece.
The win guarantees North Haven (5-4) at least a .500 season ahead of its Thanksgiving Eve game against Amity. After a 1-3 start, the Indians have won four of five.
“The story of the season for us,” coach Tony Sagnella said, “is we’ve been getting in our own way. We have an experienced team, they understand our style of play, they’re good at it. But we’ve had some very disappointing performances where we can’t seem to hold it together. The last couple of weeks we’re starting to focus on team, team, team, and that’s paying off.”
With excellent blocking up front and multiple options to move the ball, North Haven had success on the outside, up the middle and between the tackles. Oftentimes, either Corey Hooks, Albert Hooks, Watson or Max Augustine would get a direct snap and go for big gains. Twenty of the team’s 43 rushes went for eight or more yards.
“They’re all seniors up (front) and they’ve been playing in this offense for a while,” Sagnella said. “It’s funny, when you do watch us run the ball, it’s our line and there’s always two backs, sometimes three, that have to be committed to blocking. They work at that and did a good job of executing tonight.”
North Haven built a 21-7 lead by halftime by scoring on its first three possessions, drives that covered 89, 60 and 62 yards. Corey Hooks scored in the first quarter on a 1-yard run and Albert Hooks had two off-tackle runs of 38 and 37 yards, with Xavier defenders hard-pressed to get a hand on him.
“They did whatever they wanted to up front,” Xavier coach Andy Guyon said. “We did not adjust the way we needed to, to what they were doing, fast enough. We didn’t get our players to recognize what was going on well enough.”
Xavier (4-5) had some early moment, especially on the opening drive of the game when it moved into the red zone, but the opportunity to score came to a halt on fourth-and-2 at the 12, where quarterback Drew Kron was held to a one-yard gain.
The Falcons cut it to 14-7 on Kron’s 6-yard touchdown pass to DJ Wright late in the second half, but they would not score again until the final six minutes of the game.
The Indians had the ball to start the second half and moved it 61 yards in eight plays. Their only pass completion of the night came on the second play, a 21-yarder from Justin White to Joe Vitale, otherwise it was another ground assault. Watson’s 7-yard run with 7:09 to go in the quarter put Xavier behind 28-7.
The knockout punch followed. After Xavier was forced to punt, the Indians coverd 85 yards in 10 plays. Corey Hooks converted on a fourth-and-3 with a big burst through Xavier’s line, and four plays later Watson scored from five yards out for a 35-7 lead.
Watson ran for 102 of his 153 yards in the second half Albert Hooks carried six times for 110 yards
North Haven’s final touchdown, a 21-yard run by White with 3:28 left, was capped by left-footed senior Raven Tebbetts’ extra point.
“I’m glad she got a chance,” Sagnella said. “Tonight was a perfect opportunity and she nailed it.”
Sagnella was asked if his team’s strong run toward season’s end has made him think about what might have been for the Indians had they played with more consistency.
“You can’t do that in this game,” he said. “You have to look forward. We had higher expectations, but our expectation right now is to try and be a good football team and they demonstrated that tonight.”
NORTH HAVEN 42, XAVIER 14