STRATFORD—The night began with momentum.
Midway through the evening, there was hope.
By the time the Friday night lights went dark at Mastroni Field and Penders Field, however, the Bunnell and Stratford high school football teams were still winless on the high school football season.
Stratford lost to East Haven, now 5-1, by a 20-0 score while Bunnell fell to FCIAC squad Wilton 45-14.
At Mastroni Field, Bunnell’s Tyreek Smith ignited the crowd early in that game with a state-record, 100-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a 6-3 lead on the Warriors.
Wilton would answer by returning the ensuing kick-off 80 yards for a touchdown, kicking starting a 42-point run of unanswered points.
Meanwhile, at Penders, the Red Devils trailed a one-loss East Haven team by just six points at the half.
“Coming in I knew two things,” East Haven coach Scott Benoit said. “I knew they played very hard and I knew they had some good players. Their effort was tremendous. They play hard and that’s important.”
Stratford coach Jack Petion said his team didn’t look at East Haven’s record, opting instead to focus on what it was going to do in the absence of starting quarterback Trey Lanham, who missed the game with a leg injury.
“I thought the kids just didn’t look at East Haven’s record,” Petion said. “They trusted our scheme, offensively, defensively, special teams. They trusted each other.”
With a 6-0 spread at half-time, anything seemed possible.
“Going into halftime, we had a chance to do some things, but we just couldn’t punch the ball in,” Petion said.
East Haven scored with 13.7 seconds left in the third quarter and added another TD in the fourth to ice the win.
The Red Devils did have a chance to get on the board late when Connor Sixto recovered an East Haven fumble on the EH-12, but the defense denied Stratford’s chance to score late.
“We’re young, but you can see an improvement for sure,” Petion said. “I’m proud of the way they played.”’
When you’re 0-6 in the standings, though, pride is what keeps you going.
Sophomore running back and linebacker Sy’Air James could barely walk off the field post-game, once collapsing at the feet of his coach as he struggled all night with a sore back.
“Why aren’t we giving up? We’re trying to get the win out here,” said James, a bruising 5-foot-10, 226-pound player. “It was Senior Night and we wanted the win for our older guys. Our quarterback is out, we wanted to get it for him too. Every time you lose a game, you just try to go back out there and work harder and get ready for next Friday.”
Despite the defeats piling, Petion and his staff are trying to keep things positive.
“Oh-and-six, that’s the reality of it,” Petion said. “I try to stay as positive as I can knowing we have an inexperienced group. We just try to put them in the best position we can to succeed.”
Over at Mastroni, Bunnell stayed winless in the same way it has all season—giving up big plays and not being able to stop drives on third downs.
“Friday’s game was tough, another game where we let momentum swing away from us,” Bunnell coach Ty Jenkins said. “We came out and proved at 0-6 we could play with FCIAC Wilton. We have done that most of the year we need to be able to do it for four quarters.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to get out of Wilton’s first drive of the game, but on a third-and-long gave up a big play that kept the Warriors’ drive going and led to a field goal.
Following a turnover when a tip-balled led to an interception, Bunnell stopped Wilton’s next drive when Smith nabbed an interception on the goal line and raced the length of the field for a 6-3 Bunnell lead.
Smith’s return, though, was an unofficial state record as no TD return can be recorded as more than 100 yards, per the rule book.
Wilton answered by returning the kickoff 80 yards to put a damper on Smith’s heroics.
“That was huge,” Jenkins said. “Second drive we get a pick-six, we were starting to build momentum and that (kick-off return) took the wind from our sails.”
Thirty-six points later, Wilton had a 45-6 lead.
Bunnell’s Mario Solano added a late rushing touchdown to complete the scoring along with Dylan Vancho’s two-point conversion.
The game also marked the return of senior quarterback Brian Carrafiello, who was ineligible for the first five games of the season after practicing throughout the preseason.
“Brian was rusty, and we threw him to the fire but Saturday morning he was up correcting his mistake via film study,” Jenkins said. “We expect him to get into a routine and back to business.
Dylan Vancho, who replaced Carrafiello as starting QB, returned to his starting wideout position and “played great” Jenkins said.
Next week, life gets no easier for either squad.
Stratford travels to undefeated Newtown, which is the fifth-ranked team in the state, while Bunnell faces SWC rival Pomperaug, which has also struggled this season and is 1-5.
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