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North Haven Football Happy to be Together Again
Head Coach Anthony Sagnella and the athletes on the North Haven football team are glad to be back together this year after seeing the 2020 season get canceled. In its first game of the year, North Haven took a 23-3 loss to Shelton on Sept. 10. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
Assistant Coach Alex Velardi huddles up with junior Matteo Fraschilla and senior captain Matt Dodge during one of North Haven’s preseason football practices. Dodge enters this year as the only player with varsity experience on North Haven’s roster. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
Head Coach Anthony Sagnella will be looking for junior Chayse Mangino to be a key player on his defensive line during the 2021 fall season. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
The North Haven football team returned to the field for the 2021 season with just one player who had any varsity experience. While Head Coach Anthony Sagnella knows that there will be some growing pains, he expects North Haven to improve every day and become a much better football team by the end of the year.
Coach Sagnella said that North Haven’s athletes are excited to be back together and competing again after the 2020 season was canceled. During the past few months, North Haven saw upwards of 60 players attend its conditioning sessions at 6 a.m. every day in preparation for the 2021 campaign.
“It really has been good. It has been fun to see them back together again and to finally bring the team back together,” said Sagnella. “It’s not the same if the whole team isn’t together. From that perspective, it has been awesome.”
North Haven faced Shelton on the road in its season opener and took a 23-3 defeat to the Gaels on Sept. 10. North Haven’s lone score of the game came on a 36-yard field goal by senior Anthony Cavaliere with 7:52 remaining in the second quarter.
Senior Jake Langer led North Haven in rushing with nine carries for 53 yards, and sophomore Adam Pandolfi had 11 carries for 49 yards. Senior Matthew Dodge, the lone player with varsity experience entering the year, had 10 carries for 35 yards.
Defensively, senior Matthew Cocco led North Haven with nine tackles against Shelton. Junior Jeffery Kavaras had eight tackles in the loss.
North Haven was only down 9-3 entering the fourth quarter, but the Gaels scored two touchdowns in the final frame to pull away for the win.
“We’re still making a lot of juvenile mistakes. Those will eliminate themselves as we go forward. It’s just a lack of experience. We learn from them and get better,” Sagnella said. “We played hard and intense. We matched Shelton with their intensity all the way until five minutes in the third quarter. You just have to know how to take yourself mentally to another level. It’s part of the learning curve.”
North Haven is being led by a pair of senior captains in Dodge and MJ DeVilliers. Dodge plays quarterback, cornerback, and is the team’s kick returner, while DeVilliers is a tight end, outside linebacker, and the punter. Sagnella said that Dodge brings a veteran presence to North Haven and that DeVilliers always presents himself like a captain whenever he walks into the room.
“Matt is the only player on our entire roster who has started a game in a varsity scenario. Everybody looks to Matt, because he is battle tested. All eyes go to Matt, because he has been there,” said Sagnella. “MJ is your prototypical captain personality. He’s vocal, he’s physical, he’s a hard worker. When he’s there, you know he’s there. Both are extremely loyal and dedicated North Haven football players.”
North Haven runs a single-wing, direct snap offense that focuses on misdirection. With that setup, the team doesn’t feature the set roles of a traditional offense. North Haven’s offense is being led by Dodge, Karavas, and Pandolfi, along with Langer, who transitioned to fullback this season.
As the season progresses, Coach Sagnella is expecting players like Cavaliere, senior Sebastian Derubeis, and juniors Brian Lastomirsky and Daniel Thomas to all step up and see more playing time. Sagnella said that you have to be flexible and able to fill numerous roles in order to shine on offense for North Haven.
“In our offense, you have to do a little bit of everything. You have to be able to block, you have to be able to run, you have to be able to catch,” Sagnella said. “If the kid has the ability to throw the ball, we’ll take advantage of that. Our offense has the flexibility to have almost anyone in the backfield to throw the football.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Sagnella has been impressed by the performances of Dodge and DeVilliers, in addition to North Haven’s defensive line and inside linebacking core. Lastomirsky and Langer play inside linebacker for North Haven. Seniors Stephen DiChristina and Brendan Jooss, juniors Chayse Mangino and Michael Masto, and sophomore Justin Edwards all rotate on the defensive line.
Coach Sagnella said that North Haven’s defense relies on his players’ athleticism and running abilities. While the team is still looking to plug some holes, there are numerous athletes on the roster who embody those qualities. Sagnella has been pleased to see that his players are receptive and open to learning about how to improve in all phases of the game.
As North Haven looks to bounce back from its loss to Shelton, Coach Sagnella’s squad is focused on improving its offensive line. North Haven has an inexperienced group up front, but Sagnella is hoping that they improve as a unit with every rep they get.
“There’s nobody on our line that has ever played varsity football. The year away was hard on the linemen,” Sagnella said. “The only way to learn how to block another person is to block another person. At some point, you have to be able to move a human from point A to point B. That takes time.”
North Haven will get a chance to put its first win of the year in the books when the team hosts Cheshire on Friday, Sept. 17. Coach Sagnella is looking for the Cheshire game to serve as a big step for North Haven in its mission to become a top football squad in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
“As the season goes on, I’m not going to say ‘We’re making juvenile mistakes’ anymore. It’s going to be fun to see the team transform into that. It’s just when,” said Sagnella. “But I’m confident it’s going to happen. I can see it in their eyes. They want to get there. It will be really fun when we do.”