Branford Football Caps 7-Win Year with Thanksgiving Rout of East Haven
In finishing off another winning season by boat racing its nearby rival, the Branford football team closed the book on a lengthy sojourn in 2023 that only made the program that much stronger, and primed for even grander gains next fall.
The Hornets traveled to East Haven on Nov. 23 for the squads’ annual Thanksgiving Day morning matchup. Branford put an emphatic stamp on a 7-3 regular season with a 49-7 victory. Despite coming up just shy of a second straight trip to the postseason, Head Coach John Limone was quite proud of the body of work produced, thanks in large part to the dedication to preparation for each battle. Additionally, several young leaders emerged in the midst of the run.
“I believe it was a successful season in many ways. Our tangible goals are always the same: have a winning record, make the state playoffs, and win a state championship,” said Limone. “Obviously we were just shy of making the playoffs this year, so we didn’t reach those goals, but 7-3 is a very successful season overall, and we are proud of how our program prepared and played throughout the year. This team really was a lot of fun to be around this year. Our guys seemed to improve during the course of the year across the board, and our younger players really started to step up after the midway point. We also appointed two additional captains, [seniors] Nate Florio and Jeter Decusati, later in the season, which showed maturity and development as leaders on their part.”
In the annual holiday clash, junior Akiel Lomotey led the ground game with 223 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, accounting for a third of Branford’s total rushing attempts for 392 yards. The Hornets also earned 10 first downs, and only took a trio of penalties for 20 yards.
Branford built up a 28-0 lead after only a quarter of play, scoring four TDs. Jaden Konesky had a 17-yard dash at the 8:17 mark, before Lomotey punched a ticket to paydirt about three minutes later at 5:09 remaining with a 22-yard spurt.
Senior Cole Snider tacked on a 15-yard TD run with 4:47 left of action in the period, and finally Lomotey found the end zone for the second time with a lengthy 67-yard scoring scamper with 42 ticks left on the scoreboard.
Snider got the second quarter scoring started early at 11:51 with a 24-yard sprint. Senior Ryan Jones then had a four-yard touchdown rush as 7:18 was left prior to halftime, and then Florio capped the day for the Hornets’ offense with a rush from three yards away as 1:13 remained in the second.
In the final 93 seconds of the game, East Haven avoided being shutout on Turkey Day with a 28-yard touchdown toss, but it was certainly not enough, as the Hornets earned the triumph.
Limone added that the Hornets cranked the competition up a notch by moving up with regard to their rank in the SCC, and fared quite well playing up a level against some of the best in the state.
“We were fortunate enough to move up from Tier 3 to Tier 2 in the SCC this year, and ended up finishing third in the tier behind only Hand and Xavier in terms of how we placed,” said Limone. “Considering those teams were Tier 1 teams last season, I think finishing third, though it’s not what we had hoped for, showed we were able to compete, even with the adjustment to playing some bigger schools.”
Branford boasted a signature home triumph in which it displayed its true identity of football they trademarked. Yet the Hornets also revealed a great deal about themselves and their collective character in a shutout loss, and provided a humbling experience that the work of a squad is never fully completed.
“Our win at home against Sheehan really was a pivotal moment for us this season, because we did so by playing our brand of football. We were physical, played well on defense, particularly in the second half, and showed a lot of grit and determination,” Limone said. “I also believe that our loss at Hand was an important moment for us, because it showed us that even though we had played very well at times, we still had work ahead of us. Losing, especially in such a lopsided score, is never something we are okay with, but I believe that game gave us an opportunity to learn and grow, and presented our leaders with a chance to rally.”
Snider (at linebacker) and Florio (as defensive back) made the All-SCC Tier 2 Team on defense, plus Lomotey (running back) and senior Jelani Lomotey (offensive line) made the squad offensively.
Despite not getting the chance to touch the pigskin in the postseason for their final seasons, the senior class leaves behind a wealth of experience in what it takes to produce on a big stage and hand that proud pedigree down to the underclassmen.
“This senior class is a very special class. As sophomores, they got to experience a pretty unlikely run to a state semifinals, and have continued to push the program forward in terms of standards and culture ever since,” said Limone. “They raised the bar for those who will come after them, and for that, I believe we owe them a great deal of gratitude. Their leadership, particularly from our captains Ryan Jones, Cole Snider, Jeter Decusati, and Nate Florio really set the tone for what the expectations are for our football program. The players want to be successful and continue to leave things better than they found them. There’s no doubt that this group did that throughout their career. I was lucky to coach them, and I hope they got as much from our staff as we got from them.”
Speaking more to that future for the Hornets, it looks quite optimistic by returning a deep core of sophomores and juniors that will come back, though it will fall on those young men to put in the crucial copious hours in the weight room and offseason training to truly ride the ship to success.
“We graduate a good number of contributors on both sides of the ball, particularly our linemen. Leaving with these seniors is a lot of experience, as many of them started as sophomores and juniors,” Limone said. “We did have the opportunity to get a lot of meaningful snaps for a good number of sophomores and juniors this year, and we will return our leading rusher and top defender in Akiel Lomotey, who will end up being a guy who started games in all four years of his career for us. If our young guys continue to improve and develop the way they have this year, the future can be very bright for them.”
Being the head coach of the Hornets since 2013, Limone’s assistant coaching staff entailed Mike Tracy, Jason Joseph, Padraic Keefe, Kyle Lynch, and Mike Beckquist.
The 2023 Branford football roster is comprised of seniors Luis Perrotti, Florio, Isaiah Forney, Haris Valentic, William Clapp, James Glover, Joseph Robinson, Nahje Taylor, DeCusati, Snider, Maxfield Parsell, Brandon Bui, Jones, Dylan Lussier, Christopher Desiderio, Declan Kearney, Jelani Lomotey, Jeremiah Coleman; juniors with Jaeden Konesky, Scott Penner, Joshua Brauer, Cole Hawley, Akiel Lomotey, Ryan Morales, Justyn Velasquez, Dylan Warner, Marcello Mazzariello; sophomores in Justin Cast, Shiloh Williams, Jacob Kopczuk, Alex LeBlanc, Grayson Mills, Christopher Aschettino, Jason Talalas, Trent Tracy, Malachi Sessions, Shaun Swanson, Connor Fiengo, Luke Torre, Ryan Booth, Khari Barnette, Domenic Maturo, John Mautte, Jayden Crespo, Caden Dombrowski, Michael Milici, Francesco Zweeres, Brandon Mantion; plus freshmen Christopher McKittrick, Braden Andrus, Nathan Borzillo, Michael Bouton, Logan Cristaldi, Cayson Dunn, Aiden Dupre, Luke Gagliardi, Logan Ghidini, Tide Hawley, Finnegan Herget, Jeremiah Larracuente, Nicholas Marciano, Cooper Misener, Noah Morales, Nicholas Panuccio, Braeden Ryan, Jacob Walkley, and Cayden Wheeler.
2023 Branford Football Team Regular Season Results
Sept. 8: Branford 49, Bassick 0
Sept. 14: Branford 37, Amity 14
Sept. 22: Branford 20, Hartford Public 14
Sept. 29: Hamden 20, Branford 0
Oct. 6: Xavier 42, Branford 14
Oct. 20: Branford 21, Sheehan 13
Oct. 27: Hand 40, Branford 0
Nov. 3: Branford 44, Cross 0
Nov. 15: Branford 26, Law 13
Nov. 23: Branford 49, East Haven 7