CROMWELL, Nov. 3, 2023 – When the first half was complete in Friday night’s Pequot Conference game at Pierson Park, the host Cromwell/Portland Panthers football team had a six-point lead over the visiting Granby/Canton Bears.
The Bears had coughed up the ball twice on fumbles. One turnover ended a drive that looked like would result in a touchdown while the second turnover led to the Panthers touchdown. After completing his first four passes, Granby/Canton QB Vincent Forte completed just two of his next nine passes.
But there was no panic among the Bears nor any big halftime adjustments.
Granby/Canton scored 22 unanswered points, sacked Cromwell/Portland quarterback Michael Sitaro four times in the second half and got their first safety of the season as the Bears beat the Panthers for the first time, 22-6.
The Bears (7-1) are off to their best start in the fifth year of their co-op with Canton and the best start for a Granby team since 2015 when the Bears went 10-0 in the regular season.
“We had the right script going into the game,” Granby/Canton’s Will Attianese said. “We just had to stick to it. Once we began to execute (defensively), they couldn’t go anywhere.”
The Bears shrugged off their first half mistakes.
“We know everyone makes mistakes,” Attianese said. “We don’t get on our guys (about them). We just picked them up and kept moving forward.”
Trailing by six, the Bears forced a Cromwell/Portland punt on the first possession of the second half. After an 18-yard run by Forte and a 25-yard pass completion to Aidan Barbee, the Bears had the ball on the Cromwell/Portland two-yard line. After a four-yard loss, Forte scored from six yards away to tie the game at 6-6. The extra point was blocked.
Granby/Canton didn’t yield on Cromwell/Portland’s next drive. A holding penalty moved the Panthers back to their own eight-yard line. A sack from Gunnar Metcalfe and Wyatt Bernabucci moved the ball to the Panther five-yard line. Then, Kyle Pavlik tackled Cromwell/Portland quarterback Michael Sitaro in the end zone for a safety and a 8-6 lead for the Bears.
Cromwell/Portland (5-2) kicked off and Barbee returned the ball 48 yards to the Cromwell/Portland 12-yard line. Forte gained eight yards to the Panther four and Attianese scored from the four-yard line. Alexander Krauland’s kick was good to give Granby/Canton a 15-8 lead with 3:45 remaining in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, a seven-yard sack from Granby/Canton’s Tristan Jackson put the ball on the Panther 18-yard line. After a punt, the Bears took over on the Cromwell/Portland 45-yard line.
Attianese ran 37 yards up the middle to the Panther eight-yard line. He scored his second touchdown of the game on the next play for a 22-6 lead with 7:19 remaining in the game.
“I am proud of the boys for stepping up,” Granby/Canton coach Erik Shortell said. “This isn’t an easy place to play. The fans are right on top of you and the grass field can be slippery.”
Pierson Field is one of the few grass fields left in the state for high school football. The grass wasn’t short and the biggest difference is that the ball didn’t roll on punts or kickoffs as it does on artificial turf.
Attianese rushed for a game-high 98 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while Forte ran for 60yards on 17 carries. Forte completed 7-of-15 passes for 99 yards. Attianese caught two passes for 18 yards while Barbee caught two passes for 34 yards and Ryan Cunowski caught two passes for 43 yards.
Granby/Canton looked impressive on their opening drive of the game. They marched 76 yards on 11 plays to the Cromwell/Portland 11-yard line before Forte fumbled the ball when he was tackled. The Bears had four first downs on the drive. Forte gained 22 yards on five carries and completed three passes for 26 yards.
In the second quarter, Attianese lost the ball when he was tackled and the Panthers recovered on the Granby/Canton 38 yard line. A 13-yard run from Emeka Yearwood moved the ball to the Bear 25-yard line.
A 25-yard touchdown reception to Tyler Cipolla from Sitaro with 8:41 left in the second quarter gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead. The extra point attempt was wide.
“We’re just young. I don’t know myself sometimes,” Cromwell/Portland coach Randell Bennett said. “This is the second time that we’ve lost when we’ve led at the half and we just don’t kind of have it in second half. We just have to find a way to win those games.”
It didn’t help Panthers’ cause to be missing starting QB Jesse Elfeich, who missed the game due to a concussion.
It was the first win by the co-op program over the Panthers in three contests. A year ago, Cromwell/Portland outlasted Granby/Canton, 14-7. The Panthers also beat Granby and Canton in 2016 before the two teams came together as a co-op program in 2019.
Granby/Canton 22, Cromwell/Portland 6
Granby/Canton (7-1) 0 0 15 7 — 22
Cromwell/Portland (5-2) 6 0 0 0 — 6
C: Tyler Cipolla 25 pass from Michael Sitaro (kick failed), 8:41
G: Vincent Forte 6 run (kick blocked), 7:32
G: Safety: Kyle Pavlik tackles Sitaro in end zone, 4:56
G: Will Attianese 4 run (Alexander Krauland kick), 3:45
G: Attianese 8 run (Krauland kick), 7:19
RUSHING: Granby/Canton – Will Attianese 13-98, Vincent Forte 12-60, Carter Chambers 3-13, Aidan Barbee 1-4, Ben Vrabel 1-6; Cromwell/Portland – Michael Sitaro 4-9, Emeka Yearwood 10-61, Tyler Cipolla 3-minus 8, Elijah Hill 1-4, Ralph Mednez 1-14, Team 1-12
PASSING: Granby/Canton – Vincent Forte 7-15-0, 99; Cromwell/Portland — Michael Sitaro 6-13-0, 58,
RECEIVING: Granby/Canton – Will Attianese 2-18, Aidan Barbee 2-34, Carter Chambers 1-4, Ryan Cunowski 2-43; Cromwell/Portland – Emeka Yearwood 2-5, Tyler Cipolla 3-49,
SACKS: Granby 5 – Tristan Jackson, Kyle Pavlik, Gunnar Metcalfe, Carter Chambers, Metcalfe and Wyatt Bernabucci; FUMBLE REC: Wyatt Bernabucci (G), Emeka Yearwood (C), Brody Arsenault (C)