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The North Branford football team suffered its first heartbreak of the season in the campaign's final game as the T-Birds stepped on the big stage of Rentschler Field against fellow unbeaten Ansonia in the Class S State Playoff final and lost to the Chargers 59-26 on Dec. 8, marking North Branford's lone blemish in a spectacular 12-1 campaign.
"I know they gave everything they had and I couldn't ask for anything more for these guys," said Coach Mark Basil. "We're not very deep and we don't have a whole lot of numbers, but I've got very good players that will give everything to each other and that's what they did. Ansonia is an exceptional team, the No. 2 team in the state, and they proved why today."
Third-seeded North Branford's offense put up a total of 467 offensive yards against top-seeded Ansonia's 582. Senior captain running back Joe DeLucia proved he was a force to be reckoned with as he totaled 204 receiving yards for three touchdowns, his longest being 74 yards, while senior captain quarterback Brandan Basil completed 22 passes for 398 yards and four scores. However, these numbers were not enough to surpass Ansonia's offense as star back Arkeel Newsome rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns, along with quarterback Jaiquan McKnight throwing two TD passes and rushing for another.
The T-Birds came out with lots of energy, scoring on the first drive of the game when Basil completed a pass to DeLucia for a 74-yard touchdown, allowing North Branford its only lead of the day at 6-0. North Branford followed its aggressive offense with solid defense by making Ansonia go 3-and-out during its first possession.
The Chargers (14-0) tied up the game at 6-6 in the first quarter when Newsome rushed in for three yards and, after North Branford was forced to punt, Ansonia jumped ahead 14-6 when McKnight threw a deep touchdown to Raeshaun Finney for 75 yards, after which Newsome took it in for two points.
The T-Birds got their chance to come back when the Chargers fumbled a punt return and junior Josh Melaccio recovered the ball at Ansonia's 29-yard line. North Branford then worked the ball downfield with senior Dale Hausman (45 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards) rushing for four yards, followed by a penalty, and then a 6-yard pass completion to DeLucia. North Branford reached the Chargers' 5-yard line, but unfortunately, could not complete the drive as Basil's 4th-down pass fell incomplete and it turned over the ball to Ansonia, which scored the last two touchdowns in the half, putting the Chargers ahead 28-6.
"The game of football, so much of it is about momentum. And we weren't able to capitalize on those things," said Coach Basil.
But North Branford was not ready to give up as it returned from the half just as strong as it started the game. Forcing Ansonia to punt on its first possession, the T-Birds started their touchdown drive at the 30-yard line as Hausman carried the ball for a gain of eight and then Basil followed with a pass completion to DeLucia for a 63-yard TD, decreasing Ansonia's lead to 28-14 when Basil threw the 2-point conversion pass to fellow senior Gary Falanga.
After the T-Birds were in the red zone again and came out with no touchdown, Ansonia took advantage and scored back-to-back TDs, increasing its lead to 44-14. Basil responded with a deep 55-yard pass to senior captain Chris Caron, putting the QB in position to complete a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior Alex McGuigan and make it 44-20. Despite DeLucia's last 12-yard touchdown reception from Basil, North Branford's two onside kick attempts put Ansonia in good scoring range, allowing the Chargers to run away with their 18th state title behind a final score of 59-26.
"We played our hearts out," said DeLucia. "We would want the score to be different, we would have wanted to be ahead, we missed out on some big opportunities, but I think we went out like we've been playing all season-playing good, strong, and I don't think we let down one bit that game."
Coach Basil echoed DeLucia's statement, knowing his T-Birds' athletes wanted the state title as badly as he did.
"This is still a great way to end-the state championship, it's a phenomenal experience," said Basil. "I love playing with these guys so it's a good way to leave it."