Stonington's defense shines in tough loss to Branford

Stonington — Stonington experienced a growth spurt on Friday night.

It just wasn't enough for the young Bears to crack the win column.

They'll have to be satisfied with the consolation prize: a tight 8-2 loss to Branford in a non-conference football game at Palmer Field.

"There was a lot of positives tonight just in terms of our growth of our team," coach A.J. Massengale said. "Obviously, there's a lot we have to do better. We have to coach them up better, for sure."

A stingy defense grabbed the spotlight for Stonington, which limited Branford to just one first-quarter touchdown. The Hornets scored 26 points in a week one win over Lyman Hall.

Junior Spencer Landsbach's nine-yard run capped a 51-yard drive with just over two minutes left in the second quarter proved to be the difference.

"The defense played excellent," Massengale said. "We had some breakdowns here and there. We're playing a lot of kids on defense and they're getting better. They're growing every week."

The Hornets (2-0) piled up the yards and threatened several times, moving into red zone territory twice in the first half after the touchdown drive and once in the second half.

But each time, the Bears held their ground. A penalty also negated a Branford score.

Sophomore Bryan Fusaro's second-quarter sack of quarterback Sean Kelly in the end zone accounted for Stonington's points. Junior Antonio Reale thwarted another drive with an interception inside the Stonington 10-yard line.

"We played well, but they had some plays that got us," senior Nate Miller said. "We made a lot of improvement. We let (Montville) score 28 points last week. We're looking forward to next week."

One impressive defensive stand came just before halftime.

Branford set up on the Stonington seven-yard line, facing second and four. But tight coverage forced Kelly to throw three straight incomplete passes, keeping the Bears within 8-2 at the break.

"That was massive," Massengale said. "There was no panic in the kids. They kept at it. There's some very talented football players on that team and they play physical football up front, so we knew it was going to be hard to shut them down. We had to survive some situations, but the kids were able to do that."

Kelly was a dangerous two-way threat, rushing for 123 yards and throwing for 90.

For the second straight week, Stonington struggled on offense, but showed signs of progress. After scoring on the opening drive of the season last week, the Bears have gone seven and a half quarters without a touchdown.

They moved the ball better in week two but couldn't sustain drives. They entered Branford territory only three times and one drive ended in an interception.

Their most productive possession came late in the fourth quarter.

Starting on their own 18-yard-line, the Bears built some momentum by sticking the ground game. Junior Josh Curtain piled up 59 of his 71 yards overall. He fought his way for nine yards to give Stonington a first down on the Branford 19-yard-line.

But the Bears self-destructed from there.

A high snap sailed over sophomore quarterback Drew Champagne's head and Curtain recovered it for a 15-yard loss. After an incomplete, the Bears committed a penalty. They turned it over on downs with 3:44 remaining.

"We had a good thing going, so that was tough," Massengale said.

Then Branford ran out the clock.

g.keefe@theday.com

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