North Haven, SINGLE WING, dogged Whippets, Torrington won 80-39, and 1,638 other words


North Haven High School tailback Joe Schwab threw a touchdown pass during last Thursday's 41-7 rout of Sheehan of Wallingford.

North Haven's quarterback never attempted a pass.

If it sounds like the Indians were doing odd things offensively, they weren't. They're running the single wing, created in the early 1900s by Pop Warner (yes, that Pop Warner).

The single wing has helped North Haven to a 4-0 start, and the Indians debut at No. 10 in this week's Day Top 10 state coaches' poll. They're also one of 12 unbeaten teams in the CIAC Class L division, along with the likes of defending champion Masuk of Monroe and New London.

"It's an offense that's really old school," Schwab said. "The thing I like about it most is I'm featured in everything. I'm not just a quarterback who drops back and passes. I can run and catch. It features me in all aspects of the game. I like being a part of everything instead of being a traditional quarterback."

There are single wing concepts used in today's football. It features a direct snap, which is seen in the shotgun formation. The "Wildcat" formation is single wing football.

There's no one single wing formation. In the case of North Haven, it has four backs behind the line and an unbalanced line. The single wing keeps a defense on its heels as three of the four backs can take the direct snap, and it features fakes and misdirection. It's a run-heavy offense that allows the Indians to gain a few yards at a time and control the clock.

The ball is usually snapped to Schwab, who coach Tony Sagnella referred to as a tailback, "or what you would probably call a quarterback," he said.

"It's fun, I think," Sagnella said. "You're going to see everybody touching the ball. It's an exciting offense."

North Haven ran 70 offensive plays to 29 for Sheehan during last Thursday's game. Ten Indians combined to run 66 times for 482 yards and five touchdowns. They attempted just four passes and completed one — a 44-yard touchdown from Schwab to Brian Erickson.

Sagnella had been an option guy who later went to the spread option. In 2005, he saw that the team needed a short-yardage offense and began using the single wing.

"By the time we got to 2009, we didn't have a quarterback," Sagnella said. "So we said, 'You know what, this offense takes the burden out of not having a quarterback because, in practice, we can snap the ball to eight or nine different kids.' So they all get to throw it. They all get to catch it. They all get to run it. And it just kind of grew from there."

(This link will take you to a touchdown pass throw by North Haven fullback Jalon White during a Sept. 16 game against Hillhouse of New Haven.)

It wasn't easy for Sagnella and his staff to learn about the single wing because so few use it anymore.

"We had to go way back," Sagnella said. "Ken Keuffel. Charlie Caldwell. We got some Johnny Majors film from when he was at Tennessee (1977–1992). We had to go back and look at some things, but there's an underground cult of single wing around the country. I was able to finagle my way into talking to a few different people, and football is football.

"The best part about it is our kids understand it and they love it. It makes halftime adjustments easy. Our kids are coming in-and-out of the game talking to me. 'We're getting this. We're getting that.' It's just been good for us."

The Indians have enough talent that they could succeed no matter what offensive formation they use. They have a tough, physical line comprised of Andrew Savenelli (weak side guard), Mike McInnis (center), Matthew Marcarelli (strong side guard), tackles Jacob Mikos and Dan Maldonado, Erickson (strong-side tight end) and weak side tight ends Spencer Oakes and John Liquori.

Mark Zurlis is the blocking back and John-Paul DeVeglia the wing back.

"I can't say that there's no way to stop it," Sagnella said. "The burden is on us to execute."

The single wing does give North Haven an edge, though.

"With all the turning around and the spins and the twists and the misdirection on offense, I think it's really hard for a defense to deal with and hard for them to practice on their scout team," Schwab said. "You just can't do it for a week. It has to develop. So I think it's very hard (for an opponent) and gives them a headache."

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Tanner Grove knew exactly what was in store for Montville when he brought the Indians up to Windham's Ferrigno Field on Friday night.

No matter its record or how many players it dresses, Windham will play whoever is on the opposite sideline tough, as much a trademark of the Whippets as coach Brian Crudden's presence on the sideline.

Windham had opened the season with losses to Norwich Free Academy, Ledyard and Waterford.

"They played NFA and Ledyard, you're looking at a couple of state (playoff) caliber teams," Grove said. "Then they played a ticked-off Waterford team who had all these expectations this year and lost one early (to Montville). They didn't play three teams that aren't any good at football."

Windham led for most of the first half and wouldn't let the Indians pull away, forcing them to keep their first-team defense on the field the entire night before Montville won, 43-30.

"We roll in here as the fourth team they've played, they haven't won, they've been playing great football teams with 27 kids or whatever it is they're dressing," Grove said. "They are who they are. They're going to bite and scratch and claw and do whatever they have to do to win."

■ ■ ■ ■

CalPrep's Top 20 via Ned Freeman's sterile, logical computer ratings — 1. Xavier of Middletown (4-0); 2. Masuk of Monroe (4-0); 3. Hand of Madison (4-0); 4. Ansonia (4-0); 5. Pomperaug of Southbury (4-0); 6. New London (3-0); 7. Notre Dame-West Haven (3-1); 8. Conard of West Hartford (4-0); 9. Greenwich (3-1); 10. Cheshire (2-2). Five of those teams are in The Day Top 10 coaches' poll. The five that aren't are New Canaan (11th), North Haven (14th) Bunnell of Stratford (16th), Staples of Westport (18th) and Windsor (19th).

The New Haven Register Top 10 media poll has almost the same teams as the coaches poll, albeit in a slightly different order — 1. Xavier; 2. Masuk; 3. Ansonia; 4. Hand; 5. New Canaan; 6. New London; 7. Staples; 8. Windsor; 9. Bunnell, and, 10. North Haven.

■ ■ ■ ■

The CIAC's Class L division looks to be the toughest again. Not only does it have 12 unbeaten teams, it features seven of the team in The Day's poll — No. 2 Masuk, No. 4 Hand, No. 5 New Canaan, No. 6 New London, No. 7 Windsor, No. 9 Bunnell and No. 10 North Haven.

The divison is so loaded that if the season ended today, Masuk wouldn't qualify (its rated 11th).

The division will, of course, shake out over time. Top-ranked Windsor plays host to No. 9 Middletown (Oct. 21) and at No. 7 Farmington (Oct. 28). No. 8 North Haven plays at No. 13 Notre Dame of West Haven (Oct. 21). No. 5 New Canaan plays host to No. 10 Darien on Thanksgiving. And No. 12 Naugatuck plays host to Ansonia that same day.

■ ■ ■ ■

In case you missed it, Torrington beat St. Paul of Bristol last Friday, 80-39.

Yep, 80 to 39.

The game had 18 touchdowns, half of which were scored in the second quarter. Torrington led at halftime, 61-18.

The combined 119 points tied the Nov. 23, 2004 game between Vinal Tech and Rocky Hill for the second-most combined points in a game during the modern era, according to the Connecticut High School Football Record Book. Vinal won that game, 71-48.

The record was set last season (120 points) when Guilford beat Law of Milford, 67-53, on Nov. 5. The all-time record was set in 1902 when NFA thrashed Bulkeley of New London, 130-0.

Torrington had 814 yards of offense, eight yards short of Seymour's state record set against Branford in 1969.

Red Raiders coach Dan Dunaj was forced to put in his junior varsity during the second quarter so as not to violate the CIAC's "score management" rule and win by more than 51 points. That became a problem, though, because St. Paul kept its starters in.

Dunaj eventually put his starters back in, and they scored the game's final three touchdowns.

Brenden Lytton ran 15 times for 325 yards and four touchdowns, caught five passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and threw a 40-yard touchdown to give the Red Raiders a 73-39 lead.

Phil Bresson was 16 of 24 for 313 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He also scored the game's final touchdown on a 30-yard interception return.

Logan Marchi threw six touchdowns for St. Paul. Justin Gonzalez caught nine passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.

■ ■ ■ ■

More outageous games — the score was tied a remarkable five times during Bethel's 54-41 win over Oxford last Thursday. The teams were tied at 7-7, 14-14, 20-20, 27-27 and 41-41. … Pet peeve about the passing game — receivers and coaches who whine for a pass interference call after most incompletions. It's the equivalent of basketball players who always politick for a foul call. Both are instances of players (and coaches) expecting the officials to give them something for nothing. ... Thanks to fellow Team Day member Owen Poole for contributing the Montville-Windham note.

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