GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Special to CIACsports.com
NORTH HAVEN – It’s been a while since the North Haven High football had to play 48 minutes of football and come up with big plays on defense.
The most prolific scoring team in the state slugged it out with No. 5 Wethersfield and stood tall in a 21-14 victory Monday night in the Class L semifinal to advance to the state championship game for the first time in school history.
Top-ranked North Haven (12-0) will face No. 6 New Canaan (10-2) in Saturday’s Class L championship game at West Haven High at 2:30 p.m.
Throughout the season, the Indians have been praised for their ability to score points. North Haven scored 556 points in its first 11 games. And the Indians raced out to a quick 14-0 lead, scoring on their first two offensive plays – a 68-yard run by Michael Montano and a 93-yard run by Conner Suraci.
But Wethersfield (10-2) refused to go away. They cut the lead to seven points twice and were able to slow down the Indians’ running attack.
“We’ve had a lot of success and you can get complacent,” North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said. “You can’t take anything away from Wethersfield. They adjusted, they settled down and they played us tough the whole game. This was a ballgame.”
“Any type of mistake and they’ll take it to the house,” Wethersfield coach John Campanello said.
Twice, Wethersfield marched into scoring range in the first half. Trailing by 14 points, the Eagles marched to the 13-yard line early in the second quarter. But a fourth down pass from quarterback Devon Smith was batted away in the end zone by North Haven’s Nicholas Ponzio to end the scoring threat.
Late in the second quarter, Wethersfield drove to the North Haven nine-yard line but the Indians’ Connor Suraci recovered a fumble from Jamal Bagley. The ball was jarred loose with a big hit from the Indian defense.
Wethersfield cut the lead to seven, scoring on its first drive of the second half. The Eagles marched 83 yards on 15 plays, converting on a third down and 12 play on their own 15-yard line to keep the drive going, thanks a 17-yard scramble from Smith.
Smith’s run from five yards out cut the lead to 14-7 with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter.
North Haven looked like they would put the game away late in the fourth quarter when Michael Montano raced 24 yards to the Eagle five-yard line but Smith, playing defensive back, refused to give up on the play and forced a fumble that he recovered.
North Haven responded quickly when Jared Signore forced a Wethersfield fumble two plays later than teammate David Mikos. Montano, who rushed for a game-high 186 yards on 25 carries, scored on the next play with a five-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 lead with 5:26 left in the game.
But Wethersfield refused to go quietly. The Eagles converted three times on third down to pull within one score on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Richard Williams with 3:04 remaining.
North Haven was able to pick up a pair of first downs to run out the clock.
“The last time we had a gut check like that was in the third quarter of the Notre Dame (West Haven) game (Sept. 25),” Sagnella said. “It’s been a long time. I’m glad we haven’t forgotten how to buckle it up.”
Suraci ran for 165 yards on 12 carries for North Haven, which recovered a pair of fumbles by Nick Campanelli and Suraci. Lineman Jeremy Imperati had 1½ sacks for 22 yards.
The Eagles were led by hard-running Richard Williams, who ran for 120 yards on 20 carries and pulled in five receptions for 74 yards. Quarterback Devon Smith completed 9-of-19 passes for 99 yards.
“They’re an athletic group,” Campanello said. “They’re as competitive as any (senior) class I’ve ever had. They don’t like losing and they keep battling back play after play after play.”
North Haven 21, Wethersfield 14
Wethersfield (10-2) 0 0 7 7 — 14
North Haven (12-0) 14 0 0 7 — 21
N: Michael Montano 68 run (Sabrina Fronte kick), 10:03
N: Conner Suraci 93 run (Fronte kick), 6:08
W: Devon Smith 5 run (Austin Stefano kick), 1:29
N: Montano 8 run (Fronte kick), 5:20
W: Richard Williams 25 pass from Smith (Stefano kick), 3:04
RUSHING: Wethersfield – Devon Smith 19-84, Brandon Garcia 1-minus 3, Richard Williams 20-120, Kyle Vasquez 2-9, Jamal Bagley 2-4, Jae Quan Brown 1-3; North Haven – Michael Montano 25-186, Conner Suraci 12-165, Nicholas Ponzlo 6-31, Jack Steinman 1-13
PASSING: Wethesfield – Smith 9-19-0, 99; North Haven – Montaro 0-3-1, 0; Steinman 2-5-0, minus 3
RECEIVING: Wethersfield – Devin Vasquez 1-4, Navarre Pratt 2-17, Richard Williams 5-74, Jae Quan Brown 1-4; North Haven – Suraci 1-minus 3, Montano 1-0