BRANFORD — Branford made two big mistakes early Thanksgiving morning, but after that it was in complete control.
The Hornets scored 35 unanswered points to defeat rival East Haven 35-7 in the annual Beehive Bowl at the James MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex. With the victory, Branford (6-4) finished in a tie with East Haven at 4-1 in the Southern Connecticut Conference Tier 3 standings.
“This game is important to a lot of people,” Branford coach John Limone said. “Today is 20 years since I played in my first one. It has a lot of sentiment to it. It’s an important game and the seniors look forward to it.”
Branford leads the all-time series 41-33-4.
The first mistake Branford made came on the fourth play from scrimmage when quarterback Sean Kelly was picked off by Michael Caruso at the East Haven 45-yard line. Caruso returned the interception 55 yards for a touchdown and with Eric Araujo’s extra point, the Yellowjackets led 7-0 just over a minute into the contest.
But the hosts came right back with an eight-play, 76-yard drive with Kam Holmes (117 yards rushing) finishing it off with a 45-yard run down the right sideline to tie things at 7.
East Haven had a chance to take the lead late in the opening quarter. After Kelly was picked off for the second time, this one by Alexander Duarte at the Branford 18-yard line, the Yellowjackets moved the ball to the one-yard one with a 3rd-and-goal. However, two botched snaps killed their chances. They never had another one.
“We had the ball on the one-yard line and rolled the ball back,” East Haven coach Scott Benoit said. “Then we drop the snap on 4th-and-goal. You can’t do that against good teams.”
From that point, on, Branford dominated the game. Six plays later, Kelly hit Mekhi Barnette over the middle for a 45-yard scoring strike as Barnette ran untouched into the end zone.
With 2:42 to go before halftime, Holmes made it 21-7 as he scooted in from eight yards out.
“We took advantage of our opportunities when we had them,” Limone said. “We made mistakes early, but you have to be able to move on past that stuff.”
In the fourth quarter, Branford iced the game when Kelly connected with Barnette for a 36-yard touchdown pass and Kelly ran the ball into the end zone himself from 28 yards to close out the scoring.
Defensively, Branford held East Haven to 66 yards of offense, 55 of them coming on the ground.
“We felt we had a good plan, but we knew they were dangerous,” Limone said. “They have some kids who can really run if they get in the open field. We had to be sound but be aggressive.”
“That’s a very good defense,” Benoit said. “They’re tough and we couldn’t move the ball all day.”
Branford controlled the line of scrimmage, rushing for 265 yards.
“We out-physicaled them,” said Kelly, who completed just three passes in the game, but they were for 118 yards, while he added 116 yards rushing. “Our line moved them around and gave us holes to run through.”
The Yellowjackets finished 7-3 with the loss.
“I’m disappointed we lost the game,” Benoit said. “It’s progress (this year), but there’s still a long way to go.”
Branford quarterback Sean Kelly rushed for 116 yards, passed for 188 yards. He rushed for a touchdown and passed for two touchdowns.
“This game is everything for us. In 1993, it was the first time my Dad brought me to this game. It’s really special.”
— Branford coach John Limone