STRATFORD—Bunnell High football coach Ty Jenkins is a young man, just 26, and he figures he has a long career ahead that will include many victories.
But he always will remember his first one, and it finally came in his seventh try as the Bulldogs used an inspired defense to defeat Pomperaug 18-13 Friday at Mastroni Field.
Nick Ochoa’s 33-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the third quarter turned out to be thedifference, giving the Bulldogs (1-6) an 18-7 lead.
It marked the second time in as many weeks Bunnell’s defense produced a “pick six” as Tyreek Smith returned an interception 100 yards in last week’s 45-14 loss to Wilton.
”My eyes were welling up just a little bit and it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Jenkins, who celebrated the win while holding 4-year-old nephew Jaiden on his shoulders.
”I’m a very young head coach and this is something I plan on doing for a very long time. This one always will be special to me.”
On the game’s opening possession, the Panthers (1-6) gave Bunnell problems by opening in the single wing.
Pomperaug actually made it look easy, marching 60 yards in eight plays—all on the ground—to take a 7-0 lead on quarterback Connor Brown’s 3-yard TD run 4 1/2 minutes into the game.
According to Jenkins, it was just a question of the defense settling down and it dominated after the first possession, setting up all three Bunnell scores.
The Bulldogs played without linebacker Nick Demanche, who was sidelined with a concussion, and lost outside linebacker Mario Solano on the first play of the game.
”It was a rough start (to the season),” Ochoa said. “We started off with our starting quarterback (out), our starting middle linebacker was injured, but we kept fighting, we kept practicing, and getting this first W feels great. It’s not the same as last year when we were 9-1, but this one counts just as much as last year.”
Jovan Eggleston’s 1-yard TD plunge got the Bulldogs on the board with 6:12 remaining in the second quarter following a fumble recovery at the Panthers’ 45.
On the ensuing possession, Pomperaug went for it on 4th-and-4 from the Bulldogs’ 38, but a loss of 24 yards resulted in a turnover on downs and gave Bunnell excellent field position at Pomperaug’s 38.
Quarterback Brian Carrafiello, a two-year starter who missed the first half of this season, then put the Bulldogs ahead 12-7 at the half with two huge plays.
He avoided a big loss by scrambling for 10 yards on 3rd-and-20 at the 35, then fired a dart on 4th-and-10 over the middle for a 25-yard TD strike to Smith with 18 seconds left in the half.
Playing in his second game since returning to the lineup, Carrafiello sparked the offense, completing 10-of-16 passes for 95 yards.
“We bonded as soon as a I got this job,” Jenkins said. “Not having him the first five games hurt him and it hurt me to watch him hurt, but he never left his team alone. He was with us every practice. He was around.
”When he got the opportunity (to return), it was a no-brainer to put him in there,” Jenkins added. “He is a game changer. There is a reason he was all-SWC last year. He is a true general on the field.”
For the game, the Bulldogs forced three turnovers and allowed only 132 yards—and that’s after surrendering 60 on the opening possession.
With 4:51 remaining in the game, Brown pulled the Panthers within 18-13 when he tossed a 25-yard TD pass on 4th-and-18 to Jacob Hartman, who made the catch deep in the right corner of the end zone despite being well-covered.
Friday’s win did not come easily and at times the Bulldogs were their own worst enemies.
They committed some critical penalties, including a holding call that negated Jorydan Eggleston’s 87-yard return for a touchdown on the second half kickoff.
Following Hartman’s score, the Bulldogs fumbled at mid-field, a turnover that could have been devastating as it appeared the Panthers were regaining some momentum.
But Bunnell’s ended Pomperaug final possession with a flourish as Cameron Junes and James Savko delivered consecutive sacks on third and fourth downs, respectively.
”It was spectacular,” Ochoa said. “Our D-line finally got some pressure and we were able to end the game.”
Instead of keeping the ball on the ground, Carrafiello completed a 13-yard pass to Tyler Skaggs on third-and-5 for a first down at Pomperaug’s 19 that allowed the Bulldogs to run out the clock.
”Offensively, we made a lot of mistakes,” Jenkins said. “We put the ball on the ground, but I think we showed tonight that when we are clicking we can be a dangerous offense. Tyreek Smith is one of the best players in the state.”
The Bulldogs will not have much time to save the win as they play at Newtown, the fifth-ranked team in the state, next week.