STRATFORD—The Bunnell High football team likes to think of itself as a big play offensive team.
On Wednesday night, the Bulldogs added another adjective with an exclamation point.
Sparked by game MVP James Savko—who had more than a dozen tackles and two sacks in the game—Bunnell clinched a Class L state playoff spot with a 26-8 win over cross-town rival Stratford.
“Our defense saved us,” Bunnell coach Sean Mignone said. “Stratford did a great job and tried to attack us in a lot of different ways, but our defense was outstanding.”
Bunnell—which held its opponent to single digits for the seventh time this season–moved to 9-1 with the win.
After hoisting the Manning Harvey Trophy, the Bulldogs now own a 40-21 lifetime edge in the series.
The Bulldogs will play a Class L quarterfinal on Tuesday against an opponent to be determined.
“It feels good,” said Bunnell senior running back Christ N’Dabian, who rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns. “To beat Stratford is really important, but this is my last year and I wanted to go to states.”
While N’Dabian rushed for a pair of scores—a 5-yarder to provide Bunnell’s opening score and a 56-yarder to make it a 20-6 game heading into the half—Bulldogs quarterback Brian Carrafiello returned from injury to throw for a pair of scores, too.
“It’s been a while,” said Carrafiello, who was injured during Week 8’s loss to Newtown, but returned to go 7-for-12 for 160 yards and one interception against the Red Devils. “It feels great to be back on the field with my teammates and getting back to work. We haven’t missed a beat. We’re back to doing what we’ve done since week one and doing what we’ve been taught.”
Both teams took advantage of early mistakes by their opponents to get on the board.
After going three-and-out to open the game, Bunnell’s Anthony Trovarelli recovered a muffed punt by the Red Devils at the Stratford-10.
Following an offsides call against the Red Devils, N’Dabian went sweep left for a 5-yard score. Jovan Eggleston added the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
When Stratford punted away its first possession of the game, it was Bunnell’s turn to fumble away the kick. The Red Devils’ Kaleb Lafontant recovered at the Bulldogs’ 17-yard line.
It only took two plays for Stratford to get the ball down to the Bunnell-3. From there, it took four plays to get the ball in the end zone as Red Devils running back Cevon Mitchell scored from two yards out on fourth down to make it an 8-6 game.
Two plays into Bunnell’s ensuing drive, though, Carrafiello found Eli Alexandre streaking down field for a 79-yard touchdown pass and a 14-6 lead.
“We’ve been a big-play offense all year,” Mignone said. “Even tonight, we had two or three big plays to get the job done.”
The next big play came late in the half after Eggleston recovered a Stratford fumble at the Bunnell-39. Three plays later, N’Dabian went 56 yards for the score, giving the Bulldogs a 20-6 advantage.
“I think we had like three fumbles that led to scores for them,” Stratford coach Jack Petion said. “It was us shooting ourselves in the foot and not playing consistently. We haven’t been able to stop the big plays all year.”
The Red Devils, however, played as tough as they have all year against their arch-rivals.
After fumbling away their opening drive of the second half, the Red Devils caught a break. N’Dabian went 93 yards for what appeared to be another touchdown, but a holding penalty nullified the score, pushing the ball back to the Bulldogs’ 3-yard line.
A safety soon followed, allowing Stratford to cut the Bunnell lead to 20-8.
The Red Devils couldn’t capitalize on the momentum shift, though.
From there the two teams traded four straight possessions before Carrafiello found Savko on a 29-yard scoring pass to put the finishing touches on the win.
Stratford, which played with eight freshmen and sophomores in the lineup for most of the night, ended the season with a 1-9 mark.
“The kids played tough,” Petion said. “I thought we moved the ball pretty well in the first half. I thought we came really far this season. They were playing a 9-1 playoff team in Bunnell, and they competed with them.”
Glen Diaz had 76 yards rushing for the Red Devils., who lived to 95 total yards in the game.
• • •
BUNNELL 26, STRATFORD 8
STRATFORD 6 0 2 0—8
BUNNELL 14 6 0 6—26
B—Christ N’Dabian 5 run (Javon Eggleston rush)
S—Cevon Mitchell 2 run (rush failed)
B—Eli Alexandre 79 pass from Brian Carrafiello (rush failed)
B—Christ N’Dabian 56 run (rush failed)
S—Safety, tackle in the end zone
B—James Savko 29 pass from Brian Carrafiello (rush failed)
Records: Stratford 1-9, Bunnell 9-1.