WALLINGFORD — In a game characterized by costly turnovers and an aggressive running game led by Joey Mastroianni, North Haven defeated Sheehan 31-21 in an early season SCC showdown on Saturday night at Lyman Hall High School.
“That’s North Haven’s style of football,” said Sheehan head coach John Ferrazzi. “They’re on the field a lot; and with a team like ours, we’ve got a lot of players on both offense and defense. They grind it out, but I’m not going to make any excuses. We’re going to use this game to fuel us and get us better.”
Sheehan, a SCC Tier 2 team, fell to 1-1. North Haven, elevated to SCC Tier 1 after winning last year’s Class MM state championship, is also 1-1.
Friday, however, marked the first time on the field this season for the Nighthawks, who forfeited their Week 1 game while launching an investigation into “student-athlete conduct.”
The investigation complete, North Haven resumed practicing on Wednesday and, on Friday night, had a victory against a Sheehan team expected to contend in Class SS.
Amid the defeat, Ferrazzi did say that he was pleased with the grit his team showed throughout the game.
“North Haven was the better team tonight and I told our guys that I was really proud about the way they left it out there,” he said. “I saw some guys play their hearts out and played a lot of snaps tonight.”
One of the players who stood out for Sheehan was Dante DiNuzzo. The senior wide receiver and defensive back scored a 42-yard touchdown and recovered a red zone fumble.
Also for Sheehan, senior quarterback Paul Gorry displayed his arm strength with two touchdowns of more that 30 yards.
“They’re huge; they’re playmakers for us,” Ferrazzi said of DiNuzzo and Gorry. “They can do great things with the ball in their hands.”
The way the game started, it looked like the Titans were going to control the tempo. The offense completed a masterful 69-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Brady Rossacci. Gorry went 5-for-5 for 37 yards on the drive.
On the ensuing drive for North Haven, Sheehan defensive lineman A.J. Tatro recovered a fumble and rumbled to the Nighthawks 31-yard line.
That’s where the good news ends. Four plays later, North Haven cornerback Connor Rapuano intercepted a pass from Gorry intended for DiNuzzo and took it 80 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
“With that play on defense, it is all about doing your homework and making sure you look at the scouting report,” North Haven head coach Anthony Sagnella said.
The pick-six proved to be the momentum shift as the Nighthawks marched down the field on their ensuing possession. Mastroianni threw a perfect 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Bernardo to give the Nighthawks a 14-7 lead.
The drive was highlighted by a 26-yard pass from Mastroianni to Rapuano on a 3rd-and-24.
“Joe is a tough little guy,” Sagnella said. “He threw the ball on a rope tonight. I think had he not cramped, we would have been more cohesive in the second half.”
The Titans would not go quietly. They completed a 65-yard drive highlighted by DiNuzzo’s 42-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-all.
Mastroianni was not going to be stopped, however. He returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards into the red zone and finished off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-14.
On the ensuing drive, Rosacci lost a fumble to put North Haven back in scoring position. It appeared that he was down by contact and Ferrazzi was not happy with the call.
“I disagreed with the call and took a look at the film already,” he said. “We didn’t think it was a fumble, but that was the call that was made. I was happy to hold them to a field goal (attempt) after that.”
North Haven was unable to convert on the field goal due to a botched snap, but turnovers continued to ravage Sheehan’s chance at a comeback. A muffed punt led to a second field goal for the Nighthawks. This one was successful and it gave them a 10-point cushion, 24-14.
Despite their best efforts, which included a beautiful 33-yard touchdown pass from Gorry to Rossacci, the Titans were unable to recover from North Haven’s ruthless rushing attack.
“This loss should sting us, but hopefully it will fuel our fire,” Ferrazzi said. “That’s a good football team and could be one of the best teams we face, but if I know anything about our team, we will use this to get better moving forward.”
The Titans will look to rebound against Wilbur Cross in a Tier 2 game next Friday. That game will also be played at Lyman Hall as the Titans wait for the new turf track and turf project to be finished at Riccitelli Field.