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Senior captain Alex Duarte and the East Haven football team are poised to put together their third-straight winning campaign with Head Coach Scott Benoit this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain quarterback Trey Garea and the Easties have a challenging schedule ahead of them this year, beginning with a road game versus defending Class S state champion Sheehan and, as usual, finishing with their annual Thanksgiving matchup against crosstown rival Branford. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The East Haven football team has turned things around with Head Coach Scott Benoit. The Yellowjackets posted consecutive 7-3 records in their first two years with Benoit at the helm and were in contention to make the Class M State Playoffs in each of those seasons. Coach Benoit and the Easties are hoping they get the chance to notch their third-straight winning campaign in 2020.
One of the most notable stories from the 2019 season was the emergence of Trey Garea, who stepped in to play quarterback as a junior after senior Tanner DiVito suffered a thumb injury during East Haven’s opening contest. The Easties also made huge improvements on the defensive side of the ball, resulting in five players being selected to the All-SCC Tier 3 Team. Coach Benoit is pleased with the growth of his program and said the Yellowjackets are playing the style of football that he wants to see.
“I thought we did a great job last year. I thought the kids did everything we asked them to do. We lost our starting quarterback in the first game of the season, and we played with a backup who actually played very well throughout the whole year,” Benoit said. “The kids practiced well. They were very good citizens in the building. Academically, they were good. From a football standpoint, I think we improved quite a bit from 2018. I was very pleased with our team last year.”
With DiVito having graduated, East Haven enters 2020 with Garea fully entrenched as the team’s starting quarterback. Garea was also named one of the Yellowjackets’ senior captains alongside running back/linebacker Alex Duarte. Coach Benoit plans on selecting a third captain after the Easties start practicing in August. Now that Garea has a season of experience, Benoit feels confident that the QB’s blend of speed and passing skills will help East Haven succeed on offense.
“Trey’s a very talented kid. He can run. He has a tremendous throwing arm,” said Benoit. “This year, with a year of experience under his belt, he should really have a good season for us.”
East Haven ran a shotgun option on offense last season. This year, Coach Benoit is planning on using more of a traditional option that will see Garea take additional snaps under center, rather than in the backfield. As the Yellowjackets look to tweak their offensive philosophy, Coach Benoit will be relying on a trio of running backs to help move the ball down field.
Seniors Dave Amatruda, Eric Araujo, and Duarte are expected to see significant carries out of the backfield this year. Benoit said that Amatruda is the fastest of the group, Araujo features the best overall skillset, and that Duarte is the strongest among the three tailbacks. Benoit added that Garea’s speed gives the team multiple options in its offensive scheme.
“When we have it going, it’s a pretty nice thing to see,” Benoit said. “Those four guys are the core of what we do on offense. Any time they touch the ball, they can score a touchdown, which is a pretty nice thing to have.”
Benoit is expecting seniors Frank Piscitelli and Alec Madureira, junior Shea Carasone, and sophomores Dominic Salato and Nick Pacelli to make the biggest impact at wide receiver this year. Carasone will also serve as East Haven’s backup quarterback.
In the trenches, East Haven has to replace starting tight end Jake Marquardt, along with Calvin Nelson, a two-time All-SCC offensive lineman. However, Coach Benoit still expects the offensive line to be a strength for the Yellowjackets, who are returning a pair of three-year starters in seniors Kristjan Fonacier and Gunner Horton, as well as junior William Pera, who started throughout the second half of last season. Benoit is also looking for seniors Chris Lombardi and Lucas Biehler to make an impact on the offensive line.
On defense, East Haven will be tasked with filling the void of graduating seniors Nelson and Marquardt, who played defensive line and linebacker, respectively, along with linebacker Giacomo Izzo and defensive backs Mike Caruso and Mike Castellano. All five earned All-SCC Tier 3 accolades last year, and Coach Benoit knows that it will be a challenge to replace so many talented players.
“We have played very good defense over the past two years. We have probably been better on defense than we have been on offense,” said Benoit. “The guys who will be in there are guys who have played. If they didn’t start, they played. They have a pretty good understanding of what we want to do.”
Although the Easties have to replace five starters in their 3-4 scheme, they are still returning some solid players on defense this year. This includes Duarte and fellow senior Ryan Mikolajcak, who both play inside linebacker.
“Alex is a tremendous player. He’s one of the better football players we have on the team,” Benoit said of Duarte. “He’s a very physical player on defense. He’s a throwback kid. He really likes football. He likes practicing, working out. He likes everything that football is about.”
The Yellowjackets are bringing back all three starters on the defensive line. Horton will be in his second year as a starter, Pera started throughout the second half of last season, and senior Tyler Kruse earned a starting spot in 2019.
Senior Lawrence Mingione will play outside linebacker and also line up as a tight end on offense for East Haven. Amatruda and Carasone are moving to safety, while Piscitelli and Araujo will play cornerback.
Coach Benoit feels confident that the athletes on his squad know how to finish strong. On the heels of two solid seasons, Benoit said that each player’s belief in himself will play a big part in the Yellowjackets’ quest to make the playoffs.
“We have to believe that we can do it. That’s a big hurdle to get over. Once the kids get that in their mind, and there’s no doubt in their mind, I think we can do it,” Benoit said. “I think we have a talented team returning. We have a lot of kids who can score touchdowns. We need to replace five All-League guys on defense, but the guys who backed them up are good players. Finishing is more mental than it is physical. Once we get that belief, we will be OK.”
East Haven will hold its first practice of the year on Monday, Aug. 3. The Yellowjackets are slated to kick off the season with a road game against defending Class S state champion Sheehan on Friday, Sept. 11. With a competitive schedule ahead, Coach Benoit believes that if the Easties put in the work and stay focused, they will have a successful 2020 campaign.
“I want this team to be the hardest-working team that we have ever had,” said Benoit. “I want to be the most physical team and the most disciplined team on the field.”
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