Pictured: H-K quarterback Alex Riccitelli gets the pass off as Granby/Canton’s Donte’l Williams closes in during the second quarter of Friday’s Pequot Conference game. (Marc Silvestrini photo)
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM — So far this year, the Cougars of Haddam-Killingworth, who advanced all the way to the Class S championship game last December, have not been a great football team.
But, in a 27-7 loss to a good Granby/Canton team Friday night, the Cougars — now 0-5 on the season –began to show some signs of progress.
Granby/Canton coach Erik Shortell was among those impressed by the scrappy Cougars, who trailed by only a 14-7 count with five-and-a-half minutes left in the Pequot Conference game.
“Hat’s off to H-K,” Shortell said, after watching his team improve to 4-1. “I thought their lines — both on offense and defense — did a great job. Those guys really gave us all we could handle.
“I don’t care that their record is 0-5. This is a quality football program here. We knew going in that this game wasn’t going to be easy. And it wasn’t.”
However, that strong effort by H-K’s offensive and defensive lines was largely negated by seven Cougar turnovers, including four lost fumbles, an interception and two occasions on which H-K lost the ball on downs deep in Bears territory.
“We played hard, but those turnovers really hurt us,” Cougars coach Mike Baklik said. “The turnovers and a couple of those big plays we gave up really turned everything around.
“I think we played them pretty tough in the first half; in fact, we were feeling pretty good at that point. But it’s hard to win when you keep making mistakes like that.”
H-K survived a disheartening one-two punch at the onset of the game, a series of events that would have put most 0-4 teams down for the count.
It all began when the Cougars took the opening kickoff and held the ball for nine minutes, marching 69 yards in 16 plays to the Bears’ 16. But a heady play by defender Simon Mathews forced H-K quarterback Alex Riccitelli out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-5 play, turning the ball over to the Bears on downs at their 23.
That was the first punch. The next one was even more gut wrenching.
On Granby’s very first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Jackson Rome threw a deep sideline pass to Mathews. Mathews, who had run a go route straight down the field, turned around at the H-K 40, leaped, pulled the ball in and then raced untouched down the right sideline to complete a 77-yard touchdown play.
Sam Attianese kicked the PAT to give the Bears a 7-0 lead with 3:36 to play in the opening quarter, even though the Cougars had run 16 plays to Granby’s one.
From there, the teams slugged it out through a scoreless second quarter, dominated by both defenses. H-K got a huge effort from its excellent defensive line of John Bruder, Thomas Perry, Trey Callender and Chris Moore.
Callender also contributed to the H-K cause with a strong punting effort, which helped give the Cougars an edge in field position throughout much of the game. In all, he punted four times for an average of 40.7 yard.
Callender’s interception of Rome and 16-yard return midway through the second quarter gave the Cougars a first-and-10 at the Granby/Canton 20, but H-K could only pick up five yards in four plays, turning the ball over on downs deep in Bears territory for the second time in the half.
An exchange of punts at the onset of the third quarter backed up the H-K offense to its own 13 two minutes into the half. Disaster struck three plays later when the Bears recovered a Brandon Bernier fumble at the Cougars’ 15. One play later, Rome hit Attianese in the right flat and the senior running back raced into the end zone to extend the lead to 13-0.
Attianese, a senior who does a little bit of everything for the Bears, then kicked the extra point to make it 14-0 with 8:24 left in the quarter.
Granby iced the game by tacking on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, both of which came off H-K turnovers.
But the plucky Cougars climbed right back into the game off the ensuing kickoff by launching a 52-yard, eight-play drive to close to within a touchdown at 14-7. The drive, fueled by a 29-yard burst through the middle by James Bobbi that advanced the ball to the Bears’ 23 and a 12-yard romp by Bobbi that brought the ball to the eight, culminated, appropriately enough, on a 2-yard Bobbi plunge. Kevin Cavrell’s PAT made it 14-7 with 5:26 to play in the third quarter.
Unfortunately for the home crowd, Granby iced the game by tacking on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, both of which came off H-K turnovers.
Sam Schock got things rolling for the Bears by intercepting a Riccitelli pass on H-K’s first possession of the quarter, giving them the ball at the H-K 38. Rome capped the short drive by scoring on a quarterback scramble that goes into the books as a five-yard run but actually covered at least 25 yards of real estate, upping the Bear lead to 20-7.
Four plays following the Bears’ kickoff, the Cougars turned the ball over for the fifth time on their fourth lost fumble of the day, setting up the Granby/Canton offense at its own 48. On the very next play, Attianese juked and jived his way 52 yards through the entire defense to score his second touchdown of the game. His extra point made it 27-7 with two minutes to play.
Aside from his two touchdowns and three extra points, Attianese finished the game with 98 rushing yards on 17 carries. He also caught four passes for an additional 51 yards. Rome hit 8 of his 11 passes for 169 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Bobbi finished as H-K’s leading rusher with 72 yards on eight carries while Ryder Wink had 43 yards in 11 carries.
Riccitelli completed 4 of his 7 passes for 22 yards. Those passes were completed to four different receivers.
Matteo Piacenti and Callender had interceptions for the Cougar defense while Perry had a pair of sacks.
The Cougars have a bye next week and will return to action on Oct. 25, when they host Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton at home. Granby/Canton also has a bye next week before returning to action with a home game on Oct. 25 against Windsor Locks/Suffield/East Granby.