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Guilford Football Back in Action This Fall
The Guilford football team returned to the field to face Jonathan Law on Sept. 10 and took a 34-7 defeat its 2021 season opener. (Photo courtesy of Michele Burlakoff/The Touchdown Club)
Junior Mike O’Brien got some carries out of the backfield for the Grizzlies and gained 85 yards when they played Law in their first game of the fall season. (Photo courtesy of Michele Burlakoff/The Touchdown Club)
The Guilford football squad took a early 7-0 lead before Law scored the last 34 points of the game when the two teams played last week. (Photo courtesy of Michele Burlakoff/The Touchdown Club)
Guilford Head Football Coach Anthony Salvati knew that going two years without having a football season was going to take a toll on his team. The only question for the Grizzlies was just how much of a toll that time away from the game would take.
Guilford opened its 2021 season by playing Jonathan Law on Sept. 10 and lost by a 34-7 score in a home game at North Branford High School. Senior quarterback Niko Messina and a few of his teammates had to sit out the Grizzlies’ season opener after suffering recent injuries.
“We had three key injuries going into this game with one being our starting quarterback Niko Messina. He banged up his knee during our final preseason contest, and we think it’s a bone bruise,” Coach Salvati said. “The issue with the bruise is he can’t plant and fire in the pocket how we would like him to, so we’re not going to rush him back.”
Sophomore Tyler Hilgert started for Guilford at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass to senior captain Eric Dolmus on the team’s first drive of the game. The touchdown helped the Grizzlies go up 7-0 just two minutes into the game, but that score proved to be their only TD of the evening.
“Tyler was in his first varsity game as a sophomore. He made mistakes, but I liked his poise in the pocket,” said Salvati. “He didn’t have that doe-eyed look that a lot of kids get when it’s their first real game. He threw the ball on time, and he missed in all the right spots. I was very pleased with how he performed for us.”
While Guilford wound up losing the game by a wide margin, Coach Salvati said that the final score wasn’t truly indicative of his team performed against Law. The Grizzlies were only down by one score, trailing 13-7 midway through the quarter, before Law scored the last three touchdowns of the game.
“We’re a bit undersized, but our guys weren’t backing down at all. They were flying around the field. We were legitimately a play away from being in control of that game,” Salvati said. “We have a young group of kids, with six or seven sophomores starting for us, so it’s going to take time for us to develop as a team.”
In addition to Messina, another key player that the Grizzlies were missing versus Law was senior captain wide receiver Jack O’Brien, who suffered an injury during the preseason. O’Brien, Dolmus, and Eddie Barlage are the team’s senior captains this season.
Sophomore wide receiver Jake Jahnige was injured in the contest with Law and couldn’t play on the offensive side of the ball. Guilford also saw a few other players leave the game with injuries.
“These injuries definitely hurt us coming into this game. And then we had three more injuries during the game, which sets us back even more,” said Salvati. “I think a lot of it has to do with the layoff. Your body is not accustomed to the beating it takes when you are playing a full-contact sport and you take almost two years away from the game.”
Junior running back Mike O’Brien, sophomore wide receiver Trevor Ridley, and defensive end Ian Myers were also forced to leave the Law game due to injury. While he was sad to see that, Coach Salvati also felt pleased with how some of Guilford’s younger athletes stepped up in the game. This includes players like junior running back Dillon Burlakoff.
“One of the biggest bright spots of the game was Dillon Burlakoff. He was running hard every single play, and it took three or four guys to bring him down,” Salvati said. “I think that’s a positive for us going into next week. I know some of these younger guys are eager to get some playing time, and they are going to get the chance to prove themselves.”
Burlakoff had 10 carries for 97 yards, while Mike O’Brien ran the ball 19 times for 85 yards in Guilford’s season opener. Hilgert went 8-of-15 passing for 82 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Dolmus caught six passes for 62 yards and one TD.
One aspect of the Law game that Coach Salvati felt pleased with came on the defensive side of the ball. Guilford changed formations from a 3-4 to a 4-3 at the beginning of this season, and Salvati feels that is going to pay dividends for the Grizzlies.
“I’m still confident in that formation, even though we allowed 34 points. Our defense had to play a lot, and they were in a bad spot most of the game, because the offense couldn’t get anything going,” said Salvati. “I’m excited to see how this formation continues to grow on us.”
As he begins his third year as Guilford’s head coach, Salvati wants to see his team grind it out on the gridiron. The Grizzlies will look to bounce back from their loss to Law when they play a non-conference road game against New London on Friday, Sept. 17.
“I knew this game was going to be a dogfight. Law has great size, and they ran the spread really well against us,” Salvati said. “We have to learn from our mistakes and be better the next time we hit the field.”
2021 Guilford Football Schedule
Sept. 10: Jonathan Law 34, Guilford 7
Friday, Sept. 17: at New London at 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24: at Pomperaug at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 8: vs. East Lyme at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15: at Hillhouse at Bowen Field at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 29: vs. Brookfield at Guilford High School at 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 5: at Bassick at Kennedy Stadium at 6 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 12: vs. Branford at Guilford High School at 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 19: vs. East Haven at Guilford High School at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 24: at Hand at Surf Club at 7 p.m.