Mark Montano rushed for 237 yards with four touchdowns and sparked a fourth-quarter rally that sent the North Haven football team to a 35-28 home victory over Fairfield Prep in a big-time SCC Tier clash on Nov. 10. It was Senior Night at Vanacore Field, and senior captain Montano ran for the go-ahead touchdown and subsequent 2-point conversion with 7:07 left in the game to turn a 28-27 deficit into a seven-point win for the Indians.
North Haven, which has won four games in a row and seven of eight, improved to 8-2 overall and 3-2 in SCC Tier 1 with its Senior Night triumph against Prep. Head Coach Anthony Sagnella’s squad is also ranked seventh in the Class L State Playoff standings and will qualify for the tournament with a win versus Amity on Thanksgiving. Sagnella said he felt happy for his 18 seniors that they go out with a victory for their final regular season game at Vanacore Field.
“I know how important it is to them. Every game is important, and you don’t want to take any game lightly or say any game is more important than another, but it was important to them to win their last time on Vanacore,” said Coach Sagnella. “I was proud of the way they did it with how they had to fight to do it. That says a lot about the spirit of the way we want our kids to play. They demonstrated that against Fairfield Prep, which was great.”
The cold conditions were less than ideal at Vanacore Field that night, and North Haven only attempted two passes. However, the Indians didn’t really need to throw the ball at all as their ground game racked up 372 yards on 51 carries and controlled both the clock and the line of scrimmage throughout the second half. In addition to Montano’s gargantuan performance, North Haven saw senior Zack Orth run seven times for 55 yards, while Devan Brockamer had six carries for 42 yards, with fellow junior Noah Pastore rushing 10 times for 34 yards and a TD.
The Indians’ backs gained all these yards behind some powerful blocking from their offensive line of senior center Luigi Coppola, senior Pat Edwards and junior Eli Doheny at the guards, and senior tackles Eric Milliard and Henry Pearson. Junior Vinny DePalma is the blocking back, and also helping out in the trenches were the team’s tight ends: seniors Steven Erbe, Jack Klapp, and Matt Biehl, plus sophomore Noah Perillie.
It took a great effort from everyone for the Indians to move the sticks, but in the end, it was Montano who took center stage by leaving Prep’s defenders in his dust time and time again. Coach Sagnella said North Haven’s blockers gave Montano windows of daylight, and he did the rest by exploiting those openings on his way to paydirt.
“The offensive line did a great job of opening up seams for Mark to get into, and Mark and made the extra yards,” said Sagnella. “It was fun watching Mark impose his will on the Prep defenders. He was not going to be denied. He was taking 6- and 7-yard runs and turning them into 12- and 15-yard runs after contact, after people were getting to him. And our team fed off that. We did not punt in the second half. We scored every time we had the ball.”
Fairfield Prep led 21-13 at halftime, but was held to just one touchdown in the second half. The Jesuits only ran 12 plays from scrimmage in the half as North Haven’s offense sustained drives, while its defense stepped up to Prep’s physicality and turned things around following a rough start. Orth forced a fumble and made 14 tackles, junior Nick Dodge recorded a sack, and Montano had an interception for the Indians’ defense.
“We got a physical challenge. It’s intimidating playing a team like Prep that’s bigger than us, and they pushed us around in the first half. That’s something a team has to react to, and we reacted favorably to that situation. That’s a sign of a team growing up,” Coach Sagnella said. “We started to control the line of scrimmage. In the first half, they were gashing us for big plays, but we took that away. They only scored once on us in the second half, and that was a broken play. Other than that, we shut them out. We controlled the line of scrimmage, got off blocks, and got Prep off schedule. They only picked up one first down in the second half.”
Fairfield Prep (7-2, 2-2) took a 7-0 lead just 55 seconds into the game when Anthony Mastroni ran 32 yards for a touchdown. On the Jesuits’ next series, quarterback Will Lucas was intercepted by Montano, who followed by bringing home a 20-yard rushing touchdown that tied the game at 7 following freshman Chase DiCarlo’s extra point with 6:39 left in the first. As time expired in the quarter, Montano scampered for a 46-yard touchdown run that gave the Indians a 13-7 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Prep came back with a 49-yard touchdown run from Justin Keith, and the extra point gave the Jesuits a 14-13 edge with 9:21 left before halftime. Keith later scored on a 3-yard touchdown run for a 21-13 Prep advantage with 4:31 to play in the half. The Jesuits looked to add to their lead by attempting a 34-yard field goal as the half ran out, but Erbe blocked the kick to keep it a one-score game.
The Indians went on a time-consuming drive to start the second half, and Montano finished it with a 6-yard TD run, after which he tossed the 2-point conversion to Erbe to make it a 21-21 game with 4:11 to go in the third. Right after that, Lucas fumbled, but scooped it up, and raced 69 yards for a touchdown that put Prep ahead 28-21 with 3:12 left in the third. On the final play of the quarter, Pastore rushed for a 6-yard touchdown, although the extra point was blocked, and the Jesuits were hanging on with a 28-27 lead.
North Haven stopped Prep on the next series, and then followed by driving for the go-ahead score as Montano’s 1-yard TD run and 2-point conversion had the Indians up 35-28 with 7:07 to play in the game. Prep was ultimately faced with a 4th-down-and-7 from North Haven’s 43-yard line with just less than three minutes remaining. Lucas’s pass fell incomplete, Montano ran for a key first down on the next possession, and the Indians were able to run out the clock and walk off the field with another big victory.
North Haven will finish the regular season with the 22nd edition of its annual Thanksgiving Day contest against Amity at Amity High School at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 23. North Haven has defeated the Spartans in each of the past eight seasons, and a win this time would send the Indians back to the Class L State Playoffs.
Coach Sagnella and company knew they had no margin for error after losing to Shelton on Oct. 6, but the Indians have done nothing but win from that point on, and how they stand on the precipice of another ticket to the postseason dance.
“Since the Shelton game, we understood that we couldn’t afford another loss. As we got to the bye week at 4-2, we knew if we could compete and win those four games and get to 8-2, we had a good shot at getting in the playoffs. I am thrilled that our kids not only have enough drive and desire to compete at that level, but they have the courage to go out and do it and prepare that way and play that way,” said Sagnella. “To see the kids rising up to each challenge is a good sign. We have one week left. We have to take care of business on Thanksgiving and, if we do, we’ll be in, and we’ll really start to evaluate our goals.”
From the Sidelines
The members of the North Haven football team’s senior class are captains Mark Montano and Korbin Pecora; along with Zack Orth, Matt Biehl, Steven Erbe, Jack Klapp, Henry Pearson, Pat Edwards, Eric Milliard, Luigi Coppola, Kyle Pearson, Joe Corniello, Brendan Ziaks, Joe Gargano, Vinny Campagnuolo, Joe DePrimo, Stephen Chamberlain, and Jared Signore. Barry Gentile, a member of North Haven High School’s senior class who has been a regular on the sidelines for years, was also recognized prior to the Fairfield Prep game as part of the Senior Night festivities.
North Haven’s wins this year have come against Harding (54-35), Cheshire (17-14), Creed-Career-Whitney (49-14), Pomperaug (42-14), Xavier (50-49 in overtime), Foran (60-14), and Fairfield Prep (35-28). Cheshire, Xavier, and Prep are members of SCC Tier 1 with North Haven.
The Indians’ only two defeats were in SCC Tier 1 play. North Haven lost to West Haven 33-27 in its season opener and later and dropped a 31-20 decision versus Shelton.