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After experiencing elation with last week's huge win versus Xavier, the North Haven football team's emotions turned to devastation upon learning that Matthew Jacques passed away at age 6 on Sept. 26.
Matthew and his family became part of the Indians' football family when North Haven raised $9,000 for them during the program's annual Spring Brawl scrimmage on June 21, a day that saw Matthew run 20 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening handoff. Matthew was born with a congenital heart defect that blocked the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs and the funds were raised to support the Jacques family and defray costs for Matthew's heart transplant. Matthew received the transplant in August, but died due to complications.
North Haven has worn an emblem with Matthew's initials "MJ" on its helmets throughout this season and will keep playing the campaign for Matthew and his family, which includes his mother Melissa, father Al, and brother Tyler, who plays in the town's youth football program.
The day after Matthew's passing, the Indians had a game at East Haven and competed in honor of beloved Matthew, defeating the Yellowjackets 54-28.
"When we heard Matt had gotten his new heart, there were tears of joy and those turned to tears of sadness through the entire town of North Haven," said senior captain Ethan Suraci. "But we had to go out tonight and play this game like men and we're going to keep doing that for Matthew Jacques. We have an angel looking over our shoulder who's going to help us do great things."
Lineman Mike Siwek said that "Matthew was like a brother to us, a part of our family," and fellow senior captain Patrick Mikos feels thankful to have gotten to know Matthew and his family through the past few months.
"That kid was a big ball of energy and his parents were very supportive of North Haven football," Mikos said. "They were so grateful for how much money we raised through the Spring Brawl and I know they would have wanted us to play tonight."
Like everyone else, Indians' Coach Anthony Sagnella was floored by the news of Matthew's passing, yet felt proud to see his team persevere through two difficult days and do North Haven proud with how they represented the town on the football field.
"This week, the team got to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows," Sagnella said. "They've been playing the entire season for Matthew and will continue doing that. Matthew Jacques was an enthusiastic kid whose dream it was to play football and it makes me feel warm about what our team did for Matthew and his family."
East Haven's athletes also honored Matthew by signing a football for the Jacques family that Yellowjackets' coach and North Haven football alum Anthony Lucibello presented to Sagnella before the game.
When the Game Began
Against East Haven, North Haven-which is ranked No. 6 in The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll-started strong by taking a 13-0 lead after the first quarter and a 41-0 halftime advantage in improving to 3-0.
Shortly after East Haven lost a fumble on the game's first play from scrimmage, Indians' sophomore wingback Mike Montano scored on an 8-yard touchdown run for a quick 6-0 lead. On North Haven's next possession, senior quarterback Mike Halloran found Montano for a 51-yard reception and, a few plays later, Montano ran one in from three yards away to make it 13-0.
Senior Evan Manemeit intercepted a deep Yellowjackets' pass late in the first and North Haven responded with another scoring drive. Halloran broke off a 31-yard run and then connected with junior Zach Kastenhuber on a 14-yard pass, followed by Suraci's 19-yard rush and Halloran's 5-yard TD run for a 20-0 advantage. East Haven's next possession resulted in a blocked punt that was recovered at the Yellowjackets' 12 by senior Alex Baglioni, whose idea it was to organize the Spring Brawl for Matthew Jacques. A 5-yard touchdown run by Suraci then extended the lead to 27-0.
Suraci had 11 tackles with a sack on defense, Mikos made 10 tackles and recovered a fumble, Austin Mahon had a sack with a forced fumble and recovered fumble, Kastenhuber had two sacks, sophomore Jeremy Imperati recorded a sack and forced a fumble, senior Chris Brockett and Manemeit had interceptions, senior Mike Milliard forced a fumble, and Siwek and Baglioni recovered fumbles.
With 6:56 before halftime, Halloran tossed a 19-yard TD to Kastenhuber and then Montano's 20-yard run set up a 3-yard scoring rush by junior Cole Pecora. Sophomore Sabrina Fronte kicked her fifth extra point and it was 41-0 at the break.
Early in the second half, junior Tommy Gallagher scored from six yards out and sophomore Brendan Eckles kicked the point after touchdown. The Yellowjackets got on the board late in the third and then North Haven notched its final score a few minutes into the fourth when sophomore David Mikos scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to make it 54-7.
The victory concluded an emotional week for the Indians, who had the tall task of playing a football game so soon after hearing about the passing of Matthew Jacques, yet did so in exemplary fashion.
Senior captain Mahon said that "helping Matthew with the Spring Brawl was amazing, one of the most gratifying days of my life." Mahon additionally expressed how proud he is of his team for playing hard and earning a win in honor of an exuberant youngster that the town of North Haven grew to love.
"It wasn't easy, but we came out tonight and proved what we can do," said Mahon. "We all cried when we heard about Matthew and we're going to come together as a family even more for him."