Pictured: Blue Devils quarterback Aaron Faiella searches for an open receiver as two H-K defenders give chase. Providing protection for Faiella are, from left, Zak Cunningham (68), Sebby Manning (58), Eli Ripper (78) and Alex Case (15).
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM – They used to come up with clever, memorable names for big prizefights, like “The Thrilla in Manilla,” “The Brawl in Montreal,” or the classic “Rumble in the Jungle.”
Well, Friday’s Pequot Conference football game between Coginchaug/Hale Ray/East Hampton and Haddam-Killingworth won’t make the cover of next week’s Sports Illustrated, but it was certainly hard-fought and entertaining enough to deserve a nickname.
So how about “The Slugfest in the Swamp?”
The Blue Devils, who won the game 7-0, scored the only points on a 1-yard run by tailback Alex Case with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter to add a tough road win to their resume and improve their record to 3-2.
“I’m very proud of this team and the heart and determination they showed tonight,” Coginchaug coach Erik Becker said. “Tonight we stood toe-to-toe with a team that prides itself on its physicality and didn’t give an inch.”
H-K, now 0-6 on the season, played well enough to win, especially on defense, but again had trouble converting its offensive opportunities into points.
“I feel bad for those kids and that coaching staff, I really do,” Becker said. “We’ve all had stretches like they’re going through, we’ve all been there at one time or another.”
“That’s a tough, resilient team over there and they’re extremely well-prepared, well-coached,” he added. “(H-K Coach) Mike (Baklik) and his staff do a real good job with those kids. Turn two or three plays around here or there and they could easily be 3-3.”
The game’s lone score came at the end of a nine-play, 72-yard march that began with slightly more than six minutes to play in the game.
The drive started with Blue Devils quarterback Aaron Faiella completing four straight quick screens to the flat, two to his twin brother Evan for 34 yards and two to Jackson Moore for 15 yards. Those four plays moved the ball from Coginchaug’s 28 to the H-K 25 with just over three minutes left.
After an incompletion, the Faiella brothers then hooked up on a go route off of a fake screen, which netted 19 yards and gave the Devils a first-and-goal at the 6.
Two running plays then brought the ball to the 1, from where Case took a direct snap, slid to his right and cut into the end zone. Colin Murphy added the PAT to give the Devils all the points they would need.
“This is certainly the best 0-6 team I’ve ever been associated with.”— H-K coach Mike Baklik
Coginchaug’s scoring drive was bookended by two of H-K’s longest and deepest drives of the day. After a Coginchaug punt early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars marched 54 yards in nine plays behind its strong offensive line and the running of Peter Bosco and Andrew Inkel to a first down at the Blue Devil 34.
But the drive stalled at the Coginchaug 28 when quarterback Alex Riccitelli could not thread the needle on a fourth-and-3 play, turning the ball over on downs and setting up Coginchaug’s game-winning trip downfield.
Following Case’s touchdown run, Riccitelli and the Cougar offense again launched a long, 10-play drive that reached the Blue Devil 20 with 25 seconds left in the game. But a bad snap exchange on third-and-1 from the 20 set the Cougars back four yards, and a desperate Riccitelli pass into the end zone with three seconds left fell incomplete.
“The kids are playing really hard, they hung in there for four quarters and I thought we played a pretty strong game on defense,” Baklik said. “But we didn’t do enough to win. It was a good game, we put up a good battle, but we came up short. Again.”
Echoing Becker’s sentiment that H-K could easily have a much better record, Baklik added: “This is certainly the best 0-6 team I’ve ever been associated with.”
The Blue Devils cobbled together two long drives that penetrated beyond the H-K 30 twice in the first half. A 21-yard run by Case helped launch an eight-play, 37-yard march that reached the Cougar 27 on Coginchaug’s first possession of the game, and three Faiella-to-Moore completions propelled an 11-play, 35-yard drive that reached the Cougar 22 late in the opening quarter.
However, the Devils failed to convert either drive into points. Coginchaug lost the ball on downs to end the first threat, while the second was shut down when Riccitelli intercepted a Faiella pass at the Cougar 7.
H-K’s best drive of the day prior to the fourth quarter was set up by an interception by Kevin Cavrell that gave the Cougars the ball at their own 40. Five runs by Brandon Bernier and a 15-yard scamper by Inkel advanced the ball to the Blue Devil 19, but the drive ended there when Riccitelli was intercepted by Moore on fourth-and-15.
Aaron Faiella completed 19 of his 35 passes for 199 yards while his brother, Evan, caught eight of those passes for 101 yards. Moore also caught eight balls for 58 yards and forced the only Cougar turnover of the game with his interception.
Case finished with 41 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries while catching one pass for 15 yards.
The Cougars, whose passing game was limited to 23 yards in the air on two completions, did manage to rush for 167 yards while holding the Blue Devils to 51 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Five H-K running backs finished with more than 20 yards rushing, led by James Bobbi’s 40 yards on 11 carries. Bernier finished with 33 yards on seven carries, and Bosco (32 yards), Inkel (27 yards) and Ryder Wink (25 yards) also factored.
Colin Mack and Andrew Weise each caught a pass from Riccitelli for 12 and 11 yards, respectively.
Coginchaug will host Granby/Canton next Saturday in Durham, while H-K travels to Clinton next Friday night for a game against Morgan.