Pictured: Morgan senior Garret Garbinski (5) is met by coach Kevin Sullivan as time runs out in the Huskies’ win over Valley/Old Lyme. Garbinski had just picked up a first down to seal the Huskies’ 20-15 win. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
CLINTON – Morgan was in good hands Friday night when the ball was in senior Garret Garbinski’s hands.
Garbinski, who can do a little bit of everything well as a two-way player, returned a fumble 65 yards for a touchdown and scored on a 39-yard rumble to give the Huskies a 12-0 lead in the first 9 minutes of their Pequot Conference game against Valley Regional/Old Lyme.
But the Warriors shook off their forgettable start and, down by five points, had momentum late in the fourth quarter. All they had to do was stop Morgan on third-and-7 at the Huskies’ 36-yard-line to get the ball back and have a chance to win in the final 2 minutes.
On that critical third-down play, the ball went to the 6-foot, 175-pound Garbinski, who plowed his way through the middle for 8 yards and a first down.
Game over. With the Warriors out of timeouts, Morgan ran down the final 1:47 for a 20-15 victory at Peters Complex, its third straight after a season-opening loss to Cromwell/Portland.
“I just saw a hole, saw No. 4 (defensive back Sam Mullaney) just standing square up face to face with me, and I knew he was standing on that yard marker, and I just put my shoulder down,” said Garbinski. “Once I looked over and saw the ref a yard past the yard stick, I was just screaming. I wanted that game so bad.”
“Garret Garbinski was fantastic tonight,” Morgan coach Kevin Sullivan said. “I just knew, in that moment, we needed to put the ball in his hands to seal the game.”
The Huskies now get a break with the first of their two bye weeks. They won’t play again until an Oct. 16 road game against the SMSA Co-Op in Hartford.
“Although we’ve won three games, we always take them one by one and say we’re 1-0 this week,” said Garbinski, who also ran for a 2-point conversion after Morgan’s final score of the night. “We’ll celebrate for 24 hours and forget about it. That’s just how you roll and go play. We have it in the back of our heads that we’re rolling and got some energy, but we’re 1-0. That’s how we think.”
The Warriors fell to 1-2, but not for lack of effort. After falling behind by 12, the defense gave them a chance and kept Morgan senior quarterback Drew Nye, who threw for 10 touchdowns in three games, in check.
Ultimately, the Huskies’ defense met them head on, stopping the Warriors twice on downs in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“This hurts,” Valley/Old Lyme coach Hill Gbunblee said, a laugh masking his frustration. “We ended the game playing Warrior football. We’re still looking to play four complete quarters of our football and we ended the game playing hard. The ball bounces here, the ball bounces there, and it’s a completely different situation. But (I told the team), hold your heads up high and understand that we’re going to go right back to work.”
It looked as if Morgan might blow this one open early. Following Garbinski’s fumble recovery and score 2:27 into the game, Morgan forced a punt and used a short field to drive inside the 5-yard line, although the Warriors busted up a fourth-down pass in the end zone to take over on downs.
Undaunted, the Huskies forced another punt and again had a short field at the Warriors’ 34. On the second play of the drive, Garbinski took it 39 yards into the end zone with 2:52 left in the first quarter. The run for two failed.
The Warriors came to life on their next possession, a drive that would cover 57 yards. Along the way, they caught a big break on third-and-15 when a batted pass over the middle resulted in a 29-yard catch for Nick Cox down to the 9. On the next play, quarterback James Marsden scrambled for a 7-yard gain to the 2 and then scored on a 2-yard keeper. Michael Marino’s extra point made it 12-7, a margin that held up into the third quarter.
Nye used his legs to stake the Huskies to a 20-7 lead late in the third. He completed a fourth-down pass to Alex Fratamico to keep the drive alive and scrambled 10 yards on first down to the 3. The Huskies were flagged for a false start on the next play, but the penalty was just a blip. Nye drifted to the left side, couldn’t find his man open and beat the defense to the cone for the 8-yard touchdowns. Garbinski provided the 2-point conversion run.
“I’m a quarterback who was never meant to be a running quarterback,” Nye said. “I’ve always been a pocket passer. We called a passing play to Alex and the safety came over. I saw a wide-open space to the right. And I took off from there. Actually, it’s my first rushing touchdown at Morgan ever. It was a good opportunity for me to get in the end zone.”
Valley responded on its next drive, with Marsden and senior receiver DiAngelo Jean-Pierre hooking for a 39-yard gain on third down. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Marsden again threw to Jean-Pierre on fourth-and-goal from the 15, who got both feet down on the left edge of the end zone. The PAT failed, leaving Morgan with a 20-13 advantage.
Jean-Pierre was Marsden’s favorite target Friday with 10 catches for 126 yards.
The Warriors stuffed Nye on Morgan’s next possession on fourth-and-1 near midfield. Valley took over and got as far as the Huskies’ 21, where Marsden threw incomplete on fourth down.
Things got dicey for Morgan on the ensuing possession. Nye dropped back on second down, and when he couldn’t find an open receiver, Connor Lunz brought him down for a 17-yard loss. On third down from the 5, Garbinski was smothered after catching a screen pass near the goal line and tackled in the end zone for the safety with 5:55 left.
The Warriors only got as far as Morgan’s 33 with 2:28 left, with Marsden throwing incomplete on fourth-and-8. Valley receivers dropped two balls before the drive ended.
“Today we relied on our defense,” Nye said. “It was fun to watch them close it out.”
Morgan took over with 2:28 on the clock. Casey Corrigan ran for a 3-yard gain and Garbinski was stopped for no gain, setting up his game-deciding third-down attempt and the celebration that followed.
“First off, Valley played a fantastic football game,” Sullivan said. “Their defense gave us problems all night. They didn’t get down and they battled back. Offensively, we didn’t play our best football. Hats off to them, they made everything hard for us.”
“Our line, we don’t have the biggest guys in town, but we make our holes,” Garbinski said. “My sophomore year was the last time we had full contact (last season was canceled because of the pandemic) and I think had 57 rushing yards whole year. The line’s looking good this year. The boys just keep working hard creating holes for our running backs to run through. Our thanks to them.”