Pictured: Quarterback Braden Lankarge (shown in last week’s home game) piloted the Blue Devils to their third straight win. “We put a lot on his plate,” coach Mike Eagle said. “He runs the show. He has to make the right call to make things happen.” (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Tom Hennick
OLD SAYBROOK — And the beat goes on.
Two weeks after opening the season with a stirring 14-7 win over CREC Co-Op and one week after throttling longtime rival Valley Regional/Old Lyme 14-0, the Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/ East Hampton football team continued to up its game Saturday by pounding Old Saybrook/Westbrook 40-0.
For the first two weeks of the season, the Blue Devils’ defense was the main attraction. And while the defense was again immovable at the Old Saybook High School sports complex, racking up a second straight shutout, the offense, led by a rapidly emerging star at quarterback, one Braden Lankarge, joined the party with 40 points.
Just like that, Coginchaug is 3-0.
“In years like this you never know,” said winning coach Mike Eagle, returning to his mantra for 2021. “We still have work to do, but it’s a week-to-week situation. We had a really good week of practice this week. If we prepare the way we’re supposed to and treat every game like we just want to be 1-0, we feel like we’re going to be pretty good.”
Pretty good indeed.
The Blue Devils dominated on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Coginchaug picked up where it left off last week, forcing and recovering two fumbles and intercepting three Rams passes. OSW crossed midfield only three times, twice before the end of each half as time was expiring.
The only meaningful foray the Rams had into Devils’ territory came when they were already down 27-0 when a personal foul penalty moved the ball to the Coginchaug 29. But the Devils grabbed a fumble, snuffing out that scoring opportunity. Old Saybrook ran 33 plays from scrimmage and picked up only 61 yards of offense.
And as impressive as the defense was, the offense showed significant signs of improvement.
Workhorse running back Anthony Toth did his Larry Csonka imitation again, carrying the ball 21 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But it was Lankarge who turned heads this day. Calmly running the team’s sophisticated offense with ease, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 157 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for 81 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown and also rushed for a two-point conversion.
“We put a lot on his plate,” said Eagle, who signals in plays from the sidelines to Lankarge, who then brings his team to the line of scrimmage making any necessary adjustments after looking over the opposing defense.
“He runs the show,” Eagle said. “He has to make the right call to make things happen.”
Things began happening for Coginchaug from the opening whistle Saturday. The Devils took the opening kickoff and, starting on their own 28, marched 82 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. Toth was responsible for 44 of those yards, including the last nine for the score. The PAT failed and it was 6-0.
If there was a turning point, it came midway through the second period. With the score still 6-0, Coginchaug drove to the Old Saybrook 3, but was stopped on fourth down by the gritty Ram defensive line. Three plays later though, Coginchaug forced a fumble and it was recovered for the Devils by Joel Kindel. On first down, Lankarge rolled out and threw back to a wide open Chris Progano heading for the end zone for a touchdown, making it 12-0.
Old Saybrook went three and out and Coginchaug up its lead to 20-0 before the half. Toth got the TD, his second, from one yard out. The key plays in the drive were two more Lankarge completions, one of 15 yards to Progano, who made a nifty run after his catch, and one of 20 yards to Jackson Hill which brought the ball to the 1. Lankarge ran for two points, accounting for the 20-0 lead which Coginchaug took into the second half.
The second half was more of the same. After forcing another three and out on Old Saybrook’s first possession of the half, the Blue Devils went 77 yards in nine plays for another touchdown. Lankarge ran it in from 14 yards out and Progano kicked the extra point to make it 27-0.
Lankarge engineered another score on the Devils’ next possession (after another Old Saybrook three and out) with the highlights being a pretty 37-yard, third-down completion to Progano, who made a leaping catch and a 13-yard pass to Hill for a touchdown the fourth quarter began.
“We’re getting a little more comfortable offensively,” Eagle said. “And I couldn’t be more proud of (Lankarge). He rose to the challenge.”
The somewhat startling challenge was learning to play quarterback on the fly. A wide receiver for three years, Lankarge stepped into the breech when the starter moved out of state leaving a significant void.
“No, I never played quarterback,” Lankarge admitted. “ I was a receiver, but I tried out at quarterback camp and got the job.”
Lankarge admitted to being nervous when he took over the reins of the offense but said he’s getting more and more comfortable as the season progresses.
“I like having the ball in my hands,” he said with a smile. “I like looking over the defense and making the adjustments we need to make.”
Lankarge had retired to the sidelines when Coginchaug got its last touchdown on an 11-yard run by Jake Manning. The Progano kick accounted for the 40-0 final.
The Blue Devils travel to Stafford for a Friday night game against a tough Stafford/East Windsor/Somers team. Old Saybrook (0-2) will play at CREC next Saturday.
“You know, there’s really not much to say,” said a weary Rams coach Mike Marone at game’s end. “We’ve got the greatest group of kids in the world. They work hard every day. But today they whipped us. We just got beaten by a better team.”
A team, he might have added, that seems to be getting better every week.