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Senior captain quarterback Sean Kelly led the Branford football team to a 35-7 home victory against East Haven in the 78th annual Beehive Bowl on Thanksgiving Day. The Hornets have defeated the Yellowjackets in each of the last three seasons. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Kam Holmes ran for a pair of touchdowns when the Hornets stung East Haven in the Beehive Bowl. With the victory, Branford finished with a winning record for the second-straight campaign by going 6-4. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Mekhi Barnette caught a pair of TD passes from Sean Kelly to help the Branford football team post a 35-7 win versus crosstown rival East Haven in an SCC Tier 3 matchup. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The Branford football team refused to let East Haven infest the Hornets’ nest when the crosstown rivals squared off in the 78th annual Beehive Bowl game on Thanksgiving Day. After allowing an early touchdown, the Hornets responded by scoring 35 unanswered points and went on to get a 35-7 victory versus the Yellowjackets at Branford High School on Nov. 28.
Senior captain Sean Kelly threw two touchdown passes to junior Mekhi Barnette and also ran for 123 yards and a score in Branford’s convincing win. Junior Kamryn Holmes rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns for the Hornets, who increased their all-time lead in the Thanksgiving rivalry to 41-33-4 after beating East Haven for the third year in a row.
Branford won its last four games of the season to finish with a record of 6-4, giving the Hornets their second-straight winning campaign. Branford also posted a mark of 4-1 in the SCC Tier 3 standings, putting Head Coach John Limone’s squad in a tie for first place with East Haven (7-3, 4-1).
“It was just a great effort from our guys. We had a good game-plan on both sides of the ball, but at the end of the day, the kids have to execute the plan, and they executed really well,” Limone said. “It’s a really important game for both towns. No matter what the records are, we always look forward to the East Haven game as our Super Bowl. It’s one of the best games in the state in terms of tradition and historical significance. It’s just a special day for everybody, so to win it is a huge deal.”
Branford fell into a 7-0 hole against East Haven. On the first possession of the game, Kelly was intercepted by Mike Caruso, who took it back 54 yards for a touchdown to put the Yellowjackets on the board. Eric Araujo kicked the extra point to give East Haven a 7-0 lead just 1:02 into the game.
The Hornets came right back by going on a drive that culminated with a 45-yard touchdown run from Holmes. Senior Jake Bodner’s extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 7:01 to play in the first quarter.
“Kam is an explosive kid who’s tough as nails and can score from anywhere on the field,” said Limone of Holmes. “He takes the ball and gets in the open field and is hard to track down. He’s really quick.”
A few minutes later, Kelly was picked off by East Haven’s Alex Duarte, setting up the Yellowjackets with good field position inside the Branford red zone. East Haven made it to the 1-yard line, but the Hornets’ defense kept the Yellowjackets out of the end zone as the game went to the second quarter still tied at 7.
On Branford’s next drive, Kelly ran for a big first down on a draw on a 3rd-and-11 play. Two plays later, the senior captain quarterback tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Barnette to give the Hornets the lead for good. The extra point try was missed, but Branford still had a 13-7 lead with 9:03 remaining in the first half
“We knew they would defend the jet sweep with Holmes coming across, so we had play action coming off of it. Their safety wasn’t able to get over in time, and we had Mekhi wide open down the middle of the field,” Coach Limone said. “It was a good throw and a good catch and, aside from being a well-executed play, it kind of electrified the whole situation. The energy after that was incredible. I had a feeling that Mekhi was going to have a big game.”
Branford’s offense continued clicking as Holmes finished off another drive by rushing for an 8-yard TD with 2:42 left in the half. Kelly ran in the 2-point conversion for a 21-7 advantage at intermission.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Branford put the game away with pair of touchdowns in the fourth. First, Kelly threw his second touchdown of the game to Barnette on a 36-yard strike at the 8:22 mark of the quarter. Bodner kicked the extra point and the Hornets were up 28-7.
Later in the frame, Kelly broke off a 28-yard touchdown run to increase Branford’s lead to 34-7 with 2:49 to go in the contest. Bodner hit his third extra point of the day to put the final trimmings on the Hornets’ 35-7 victory.
“Sean did a really good job of breaking tackles and made big plays with his feet when he had to,” Limone said of Kelly. “I can’t speak highly enough about that kid. The things he did for us day in and day out go farther than the numbers. It was fitting for him to have a good day considering all the things that he did for our program.”
Branford secured the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons in a decade by beating East Haven on Thanksgiving. Coach Limone was proud of his team for playing some great football down the stretch in order to go 6-4 for the second-consecutive year.
“Those juniors and seniors will always be able to look back at that. That is the legacy those guys are leaving behind,” said Limone. “They were part of changing the culture, changing how people view us, and changing the expectations. Those kids really did wonders for our program. To win four in a row is not easy to do, and we’re just happy that we finished on a high note.”
The Hornets ran for 288 yards as a team in the win. Coach Limone said that Branford’s offensive line played a great game and added that junior fullback Justin Osler delivered several critical blocks that gave the Hornets’ backs some daylight. In addition to the big games from Kelly and Holmes, senior Spencer Landsbach added 42 yards on 13 carries for Branford.
Kelly completed three passes for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Barnette had two receptions for 81 yards with two TDs, and senior Cameron Mills reeled in a 37-yard reception.
Branford’s defense also turned in an excellent effort by preventing East Haven from scoring a point on offense. Juniors Peyton Tracy and Wayne Claude each grabbed an interception, while senior Austin Coburn recovered a fumble for the Hornets. Landsbach and Tracy both had 12 tackles in the victory. Junior Luke Volpe made nine tackles, and Osler added seven tackles.
A few days before the East Haven game, Branford hosted Foran for an SCC Tier 3 matchup and defeated the Lions 39-21 on Nov. 21. Holmes had a huge night on the ground by running the ball 16 times for 144 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly completed seven passes for 176 yards and a touchdown to go with 16 carries for 89 yards and a TD. Landsbach ran 10 times for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Holmes scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with 6:45 to play in the first quarter. Bodner’s extra point made it 7-0 after one.
After Foran scored a touchdown, Branford answered on a 19-yard TD rush from Holmes to give the Hornets a 13-7 lead with 3:34 left in the first half. Bodner hit the extra point and it was 14-7.
With 1:52 to go, Kelly connected with Mills for a 69-yard touchdown pass that extended the lead to 20-7. Branford was unsuccessful on the 2-point conversion pass and took its 13-point lead into halftime.
Kelly ran for a 3-yard TD with 6:15 to go in the third quarter. The 2-point pass was no good, putting the score at 26-7 in favor of the Hornets.
Foran came back with a pair of quick touchdown passes that cut the deficit to 26-21 with 2:32 left in the third. However, just 21 seconds later, Holmes scored his third touchdown of the game when he took a 61-yard run to the house. Bodner kicked the extra point for a 33-21 lead after three.
Early in the fourth quarter, Landsbach crossed the goal line for a 4-yard TD run to put the Hornets up 39-21 with 10:27 to play in the game.
Mills had three catches for 87 yards and a touchdown to aid the Branford offense. Holmes had two receptions for 65 yards to complement his big rushing performance.
Mills and Holmes both snagged an interception on defense. Osler recorded a sack, and senior captain Ian McDonald blocked a field goal. Landsbach and Tracy each had eight tackles, while Osler and Volpe made seven tackles apiece.
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