Pictured: The Huskies finished 8-2 in the regular season and will play on the road Tuesday night in the Class S playoffs. (Photo by Kim Inglis)
By Danny Atkinson
CLINTON — Entering this season, it was very hard to imagine Morgan would be in position to earn a state playoff berth. The Huskies had a combined three wins in the previous two seasons (teams did not play in 2020) and were bringing in a new head coach. However, there’s no accounting for the impact a high-powered offense and talented senior class can have on a program.
Behind another dominant performance from quarterback Drew Nye and multiple seniors on both sides of the ball, Morgan routed Old Saybrook/Westbrook 46-8 to finish the regular season 8-2 and clinch a Class S playoff berth. The Huskies will play either Ansonia or rival Cromwell/Portland on the road in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
“It feels great to earn a berth. Our 14 seniors had a huge advantage being able to start sophomore year, and after COVID-19 we hopped back on the boat and knew what we needed to do,” said wide receiver/defensive back Garret Garbinski. “We always talked about making the state playoffs being our dream and we’re not going to stop here. We’re going to keep going.”
The Huskies, who entered the night averaging over 36 points per game, rebounded from a 28-26 loss at Ellington last week to score more than 40 for the sixth time this season. Morgan scored on all four of its first-half possessions.
Nye, one of the top quarterbacks in the state, threw for six touchdowns, with Garbinski catching three in the first half. Jack Nye, Alex Fratamico and Ethan Ranaudo caught the other TD passes. Tyler Baldwin snagged a key interception late in the first half that quickly led to a score.
Morgan, who has not lost a Pequot Conference-Sassacus Division game since its season opener against Cromwell/Portland, found itself in the rare position of trailing when it allowed a touchdown to OSW on a game-opening 52-yard drive. The Warriors ran it down the throats of the Huskies to start it off, a strategy they would stick to throughout the game.
OSW did an excellent job of breaking tackles and pushing back defenders, and with quarterback Vinnie Naccarato leading the way, did an excellent job of converting on third down. On a third-and-1 from the 12-yard line, Naccarato got outside on a keeper and beat multiple defenders for a touchdown. The Warriors were successful on the 2-point conversion to go up 8-0 just 5:29 into the game.
Just as soon as OSW gained momentum, Morgan snatched it back. On its first play from their 48, Nye threw a beautiful deep pass to an open Grabinski on the right sideline, who outraced the defense to score. Corrigan caught a 2-point conversion to tie the game with 6:18 remaining in the quarter.
The Huskies started their second possession off well, with the rushing trio of Naccarato, freshman Wesley Percival and Andrew Carter breaking tackles and gaining significant yardage on several consecutive possessions while eating up clock. A conversion by Naccarato on fourth-and-2 put Morgan just inside the 30 as the game entered the second quarter.
The Huskies finally stepped up on defense with the help of a delay of game call, as lineman Dominic Muse chased down Naccarato for a sack on third-and-13, forcing the Warriors to punt. They would never again get so close to the end zone.
Despite starting at the 7-yard-line three minutes into the quarter, Morgan would reach the end zone quickly. Garbinski snagged a 36-yard pass and a laser to Ranaudo brought the team to the 15. Garbinski was unfazed when his touchdown catch two plays later was called back for holding, as Nye waited for his friend to get open before finding him over his shoulder for an easy 14-yard TD. Nye then moved to receiver for the 2-point conversion play and caught a nice pass from Nick Schmidt to put the Huskies up 16-8 with 7:54 on the clock.
After the Rams’ next possession was hurt by penalties and improved tackling by Morgan, the Huskies went 59 yards for a TD in less than a minute. On third-and-22, Nye escaped the defense and found Fratamico along the sideline for the first down and found him again on the next play to reach the red zone at the 14. Garbinski reappeared for a wide-open TD in the back of the end zone, and Jack Nye caught a conversion from his brother to make the score 24-8 with a minute remaining on the clock.
The next two plays solidified the outcome. The Huskies’ rush forced a poor pass that was fumbled and recovered by Baldwin along the left sideline, where he was tackled at the 30. Nye immediately found Garbinski all along in the right corner after he beat his defenders, and he waltzed into the end zone to give the Huskies a 30-8 lead at the half.
“Throwing the football has been our game all year,” Morgan coach Kevin Sullivan said. “We have a great quarterback and group of receivers, and we wouldn’t be able to do all this if it wasn’t for the protection the offensive line gives. Drew was able to make plays and it was good for him to bounce back from a rough week last week.”
The second half was played more quickly and featured a running clock for part of the fourth quarter.
Ranaudo caught a 17-yard touchdown and the conversion made it 38-8 less than a minute into the seond half, and Nye threw his sixth and final TD pass with 5:04 remaining in the third to make it 46-8.
Sullivan credited OSW with a good job of running the ball. He said Morgan came out flat on defense but gained momentum after forcing the fumble.
Rams assistant coach Mike Spotts discussed the challenge of playing the Huskies and how his team became overwhelmed.
“Athletically, they were a much-better prepared team, and we can’t compete with their athletes,” he said. “We tried to adjust on offense, but we are limited by having only 15 varsity players. They executed well.”
Spotts praised the staff and OSW’s growth despite its struggles in an 0-9 season.
“The players put everything they had into the team. We only had five seniors, but everyone put all they had into games and practices. We practiced to win, things just didn’t go our way.”
Sullivan and Garbinski discussed their confidence going into the playoffs.
“It’s fantastic to earn a playoff berth. These seniors worked their butts off and it’s great to see them be rewarded,” the coach said. “We’re going to go into our first-round game with the mindset that we can compete, and I think we present match-up problems for everyone because of how much we pass.”
“There’s no reason why we can’t keep winning. It would especially be satisfying to play Cromwell again after losing to them. We really all want that game,” Garbinski said.