CANTON, September 8 – With the magnificent new lights shining brightly upon the field, the Canton High football team battled hard with the co-op team from Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton Saturday night at the high school.
The visiting Blue Devils won six games a year ago and came into the season with aspirations to challenge for a CIAC playoff spot.
Coginchaug had to score twice in the final 8:21 to take the lead and then held off a final Canton rally to earn a 16-8 Pequot Conference victory in the season opening game for both squads.
It was a game disrupted by 27 penalties and it was full of hard hitting. Three players were sent to the bench for the remainder of the game for throwing punches late in the second quarter after a tackle near midfield.
“Canton played with ferocious effort and that is what you want from an opponent,” Coginchaug coach Erik Becker said. “We respect the heck out of them and we hope they respect us. It was a game that could have gone either way.”
The Blue Devils had two potential touchdowns wiped out by penalties. And the Warriors forced three Coginchaug turnovers with Lamont Morris and Michael Brosnan intercepting passes and Nathan Biega recovering a fumble.
“I told the kids afterward that no one should have their heads down,” Canton’s second-year coach Dante Boffi said. “Everyone gave a maximum effort. A year ago, we couldn’t say that victory was in our grasp. (Tonight, our final drive) ended on the 10-yard line. It was a war – one of the toughest football games I have been on the sideline for.”
Canton took an 8-0 lead on their first offensive play of the game when quarterback Dugan Lloyd found a wide-open Colin Mackin behind the defense for a 60-yard touchdown reception. Biega had the two-point conversion run with just seven seconds gone in the game.
Canton held that lead until Coginchaug scored Ryan Genest’s 27-yard pass from quarterback Elijah Rivera with 8:21 left in the game. Rivera’s two-point conversion run tied the game at 8-8.
A 25-yard punt return by Genest gave the Blue Devils the ball on their own 47-yard line with 3:42 remaining. But Canton was called for a block in the back on the play, moving the ball to the Canton 38-yard line.
With less than two minutes left, Justin Czermicha ran for 10 yards on a third down and 1 play to the Canton nine-yard line. Two plays later, Rivera ran in from nine yards away with 54 seconds remaining, diving and hitting the pylon to get into the end zone. He scored on a two-point conversion to extend the lead to 16-8.
“Our kids were resilient,” Becker said. “They just kept playing and playing. We made so many mistakes (13 penalties, three turnovers) and it’s hard to overcome that many mistakes.”
Canton had one last drive for a touchdown. Donovan Mackin took the kickoff and raced 36 yards to the Coginchaug 43-yard line. Two plays later, Lloyd found Colin Mackin for a tremendous catch to the Blue Devil 12-yard line.
Macklin was battling two Coginchaug defenders for the ball, which deflected up into the air and back down into Macklin’s hands with 39 seconds remaining. But that is far as the Warriors would get.
“We have a few things to polish up,” Boffi said. “We left a lot of points on the field tonight and we had several opportunities.”
Coginchaug switched quarterbacks at halftime going to Rivera instead of Aaron Faiella, who played the first half. “(Eli) has a physicality that Aaron does,” Becker said. “Aaron is going to be a phenomenal quarterback but Eli gave us the ability to pound the ball downhill and that was successful for us.”
Rivera ran for 36 yards on 10 carries including three carries for 18 yards on the game-winning scoring drive.
Canton made some big defensive plays to stay in the game. A big hit after a 17-yard reception to the Canton six-yard line caused a fumble that was recovered by Biega in the first quarter. On Coginchaug’s next drive, the Blue Devils were on the Canton eight-yard line but Faiella was intercepted by LaMont Morris to stop that drive.
Midway through the second quarter, the Blue Devils were on the Canton 20-yard line but freshman Michael Bronson intercepted the pass in the end zone to stop another scoring opportunity.
Three players – two from Coginchaug and one from Canton – headed to the showers early after throwing punches in a scuffle after a tackle. The referees told both coaches that they should keep the players out of the remainder of the game. If not, they would be ejected resulting in the three players also missing next week’s game.
Canton’s starting center was one of the three players. Canton’s backup center wasn’t available due to a personal commitment. So senior tight end Max Klinkert, who played center earlier in this career, was pressed into service for the second half.
Lloyd completed 7-of-23 passes for 136 yards and one interception for the Warriors while Carter Gavin ran for 26 yards on seven carries. Colin Mackin caught two passes for 91 yards.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” Boffi said.
Becker was impressed as well. “They had 25 kids in pads. Dante does more with what he has than any other coach in Connecticut. He is a class act and a great guy,” Becker said.
NOTES: It was the first athletic event at Canton under the new permanent lights that were installed in August. Over the past two years, the community raised $203,000 to purchase the lights and the town paid $48,000 to install them. … The Warriors are now 0-3 against Coginchaug. … On opening day, Canton falls to 16-24. They have lost the last four openers. The most recent opening day win for the Warriors was a 35-6 win over SMSA/University in 2014. … Canton was called for 14 penalties while the Blue Devils were called for 13.
Coginchaug/Hale-Ray/East Hampton 16, Canton 8
Coginchaug/HR/EH (1-0) 0 0 0 16 – 16
Canton (0-1) 8 0 0 0 — 8
Can: Colin Mackin 60 pass from Dugan Lloyd (Nathan Biega run), 11:53
Cog: Ryan Genest 27 pass from Elijah Rivera (Rivera run), 8:21
Cog: Rivera 9 run (Rivera run), 0:54
RUSHING: Canton – Dugan Lloyd 6-13, Braydon Fluckiger 8-21, Carter Gavin 7-26, Nathan Biega 2-16; Elijah Rivera 10-36, Justin Czermicha 16-69, David Skelps 13-38
PASSING: Canton – Lloyd 7-23-1, 136; Coginchaug – Elijah Rivera 5-17-0, 83; Aaron Faiella 9-24-2, 107
RECEIVING: Canton – Colin Mackin 2-91, Carter Gavin 2-4, Donovan Mackin 2-39, Gavin Wood 1-2; Coginchaug – Ryan Genest 6-79, Utah Griffin 3-36, Tyler Garrelson 1-17, Jackson Moore 4-31
INTERCEPTIONS: Jackson Moore (Coginchaug) 1-10, Lamont Morris (Canton) 1-3, Michael Brosnan (Canton) 1-0; FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Nathan Biega (Canton), Evan Faiella (Coginchaug)
RETURNS: Colin Sheehy, Coginchaug, 2-46 (kickoffs); Carter Gavin, Canton, 2-36 (kickoff), Donovan Mackin, Canton, 1-36 (kickoff); Genest, Coginchaug, 2-40 (punt), Carter Gavin, Canton, 1-15