Bunnell running back Jovan Eggleston, left, takes a handoff from quarterback Dylan Vancho during Friday night's season-opening game against Joel Barlow. (Photo by John Nash)

H.S. FOOTBALL: Short-handed Bunnell falls to Barlow in season-opener

STRATFORD—New Bunnell football coach Ty Jenkins was so excited in ​anticipation of his first game with the Bulldogs that he said he ​couldn’t eat or sleep for two days before Friday’s contest against ​Barlow.​

​He’ll have to wait another week for his first win as the Falcons​ gashed the Bulldogs with a punishing ground attack en route to a ​ 42-20 victory.​

​Barlow spoiled Bunnell’s dedication as the school remained its​ field in honor of former coach Bob Mastroni, who led the program​ for 24 years from 1977-2000, posting a 152-90-3 record while​ winning four conference championships.​

Mastroni, a  beloved member of the Bunnell family, also conducted the pre-game coin toss.  

​On Friday, Jenkins saw his team give up 371 yards of total offense,​ all on the ground. The Falcons attempted only two passes and didn’t​ complete either of them.​

Since Barlow was in control, there was no need for Falcons to throw more.

​While the Falcons hurt Bunnell with sweeps to the right and also runs​ up the middle, the Bulldogs were severely short-handed.​

​During the week, they lost several players, including C.J. Newton,​ their 300-pound tackle, forcing Jenkins to start a number of​ sophomores. Newton is expected to return next week at New Milford.​

​Jenkins did not want to get into specifics as to why the players​ were missing, only saying there were “some unfortunate events that​ occurred.”​

​The Bulldogs already knew there were going to be without linebacker James Sakvo, their leading tackler a year ago, who is expected to be sidelined​ for another few weeks with a broken wrist.​

​”That’s not in my control and I refuse to let my team or my coaches​ and myself make any excuses for them,” Jenkins said of the absences.​

​On offense, the Bulldogs also suffered a blow as senior quarterback​ Brian Carrafiello, a two-year starter, was declared ineligible, according to athletic director Wayne Thrall.​

Bunnell quarterback Tyler Vancho fires a pass during Friday’s season-opener against Joel Barlow. (Photo by John Nash)

​Junior Dylan Vancho made his first career varsity start and generated two​ scores with a pair of electrifying plays, a 65-yard TD pass to Tyler​ Staggs in the first quarter and a 75-yard TD strike to Tyreek ​Smith in the third period.​

​After Bunnell opened the game with a three-and-out, the Bulldogs​ were in position to get a stop, but Barlow quarterback Brett Hugo​ ripped off a 45-yard TD run straight up the middle on fourth-and-3, a play​ that set the tone for the evening.​

​Vancho and Staggs hooked up on the next play, resulting in two ​touchdowns in 13 seconds.​

​However, the Falcons answered with a 12-play, 55-yard drive to​ take a 14-6 lead on Hugo’s 5-yard TD run with 57 seconds left​ in the first half.​

​”I believe in my heart of hearts that when we’re at full strength​ that doesn’t happen,” Jenkins said. of the Falcons’ dominant running game.  “I believe we have one of the ​best defensive lineman in the state in C.J. Newton and ​when he’s with us we’re a different team. I have no concerns  with ​myself or my staff to make sure that the run is taken care of.”​

​It appeared that the Falcons were going to make it three scores​ in as many possessions, but the Bulldogs got a break when Jovan​ Eggleston recovered a fumbled snap at the Bunnell 12. ​

Bunnell’s Tyreek Smith looks to hit a gap on a kick-off return on Friday vs. Joel Barlow. (Photo by John Nash)

​However, in the final minute of the first half, Aldan Gale ​ returned an interception to the Bunnell 3-yard line and James Porter​ scored on the next play to give the Falcons a 21-6 lead at the​ intermission.​

​Barlow continued to pound the ball after the break, scoring TDs​ on its first three possessions to break the game open, increasing​ its lead to 42-12 midway through the fourth quarter.​

​Hugo paced the Falcons’ ground attack with 117 yards and ​three touchdowns on 15 carries. Gale added 68 yards on eight carries​ while Porter also scored three touchdowns.​

​Vancho showed promise for the Bulldogs, passing for 185 yards.​

​”I could not have asked any more from him,” Jenkins said. “He did ​what he needed to do. We missed some key throws but that comes with ​experience. We’re a young team. We had about five sophomores out ​there tonight and we’re going to grow from this, for sure.”​

​Backup Angelo Ferranti accounted for Bunnell’s last score with a ​14-yard TD pass to Staggs in the final minute following a turnover. ​

Next Friday, Bunnell travels to North Haven. Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m.

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