Pictured: Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton celebrates its fifth win of the season Friday night in Durham. Clayton Wiseman (32) and Luke Kindel (4) are front and center. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM – The Blue Devils of Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton pitched their third shutout of the young season Friday and improved their record to 5-0 with an 18-0 win over Haddam-Killingworth.
Tailback Anthony Toth ran for 147 yards on 30 carries and quarterback Braden Lankarge had 169 yards in total offense — including 87 on the ground — and a hand in all three Blue Devil touchdowns, but it was the Coginchaug defenders who stole the show.
The Blue Devils’ defense forced seven H-K turnovers and limited the Cougars’ ground game to negative 14 yards rushing while holding them to 116 yards in total offense.
“We pride ourselves on running the ball, and this is two weeks in a row now where we just haven’t been able to create any space in the running game,” H-K coach Tyler Wilcox said. “There were just too many times when they hit our (running backs) in the backfield, just way too much penetration.
“They have a great defense, and they’re very well-coached, but we have to get back to the drawing board and get this turned around. We have to do a better job in the run game to take some pressure off of our quarterback.”
Left unsaid in his postgame analysis was the fact that Wilcox’s team continues to play without its two primary offensive weapons, quarterback Tate Callender (wrist injury) and running back Orion Inkel (groin pull).
The good news from a Cougar perspective is that Wilcox may have both injured stars back for the first time since the first quarter of the opening game after H-K’s upcoming bye week.
Coginchaug, on the other hand, appears to have a whole bunch of stars, all of whom are healthy.
Aside from Toth and Lankarge, three of the biggest stars for the Devils in Friday night’s Pequot Conference game were defensive end Ethan Adams, cornerback/wide receiver Chris Progano and safety/wide receiver Jackson Hill.
Adams’ night included five solo tackles for a loss, constant pressure on H-K quarterback Alex Phipps, and a fumble recovery. For those not familiar with the stat, five solo tackles for a loss would constitute a reasonably good season for many defensive ends.
“I’m very proud of this defense and the fact that we’ve had three shutouts and given up only three touchdowns in our first five games,” Adams said. “Now we have to keep our feet on the pedal and keep this train rolling.”
Progano had three interceptions on the night and also caught three passes for 53 yards. Those receptions included a 34-yard strike from Lankarge that produced Coginchaug’s third and final touchdown of the evening.
“Defense wins football games, I really believe that,” Progano said. “This defense has really come together, we’re really playing well. I just love winning football games with these guys.”
Hill had a number of tackles from his safety position plus an interception and a 15-yard touchdown reception.
“Our offense was a little inconsistent tonight, we were running hot and cold on that side of the ball,” Blue Devils coach Mike Eagle said. “But our defense, once again, was solid. Those guys had a very, very good night.”
Aided by a pair of H-K turnovers, Coginchaug drove the ball inside the Cougars’ 35 – including one drive that stalled at the 9 – on three occasions in the opening quarter, but were turned away on downs each time by the gritty Cougar defense.
Lankarge and Toth then led a 61-yard, eight-play drive in the second quarter that ended with Lankarge’s 15-yard scoring strike to Hill with 6:56 to play in the half, giving the home team a 6-0 lead. Hill stretched high for the pass at about the 7-yard line, caught the ball at its highest point, and then spun away from a Cougar defender into the end zone.
A 33-yard completion from Phipps to Ryan Duncanson on the ensuing H-K possession helped the Cougars move to the Devils’ 33, but Progano’s first interception of the night killed the drive and kept the score 6-0 at halftime.
Jake Manning returned the opening kickoff of the second half 67 yards to put the Blue Devils’ offense in business at the Cougar 25. From there, Lankarge used his feet to pick up 22 of the remaining 25 yards, including a 4-yard keeper up the middle to put Coginchaug’s second touchdown on the board and stretch the Devils’ lead to 12-0.
Five minutes later, Progano’s second pick of the night triggered an eight- play, 71-yard drive that appeared to be in trouble when the Devils found themselves facing a third-and-17 at the H-K 34. But Lankarge hit Progano on a go-route with a pretty 34-yard scoring pass to make it 18-0 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Devils then misfired on their third straight extra-point attempt to freeze the score at 18-0 entering the final quarter.
Neither team mounted a serious threat in the final quarter.
Lankarge completed 6 of his 16 throws for 82 yards and two touchdowns and also chipped in with an interception on the defensive side of the ball.
Phipps completed 14 of his 25 passes for 130 yards for H-K while Matteo Piacenti caught four passes for 54 yards and Ryan Duncanson and Nick Glynn each hauled in three passes. Kevin Cavrell caught two passes for 37 yards and came up with an interception.
“There were times when our offense was good tonight and there were times when it was ugly,” Eagle said. “That’s why we’ll be back in the film room tomorrow trying to figure out not just the why but the what and the how of the problem.”
Meanwhile, Wilcox and his Cougars, now 1-3 on the season, are looking forward to their bye week and, hopefully, the return of their starting quarterback and lead running back.
H-K………..0 0 0 0–0
CHREH…..0 6 12 0–18
CHREH: Hill 15-yard pass from Lankarge (rush failed)
CHREH: Lankarge 6-yard run (pass failed)
CHREH: Progano 34-yard pass from Lankarge (kick failed)
Records: H-K 1-3; Coginchaug 5-0.
Up Next: H-K hosts with North Branford, Oct. 22, 6:30 p.m.; CHREH visits Morgan, Oct. 22, 6:30.