BRANFORD – It’s called lead right, a simple play with the runner going off right tackle and then cutting back up the middle.
Guilford ran it twice in the fourth quarter Friday night and it worked perfectly as Charles Walcott scored on a pair of long touchdowns as the Indians came back to knock off neighboring Branford 20-19 in a penalty-filled season opener.
It was also a victory for Anthony Salvati in his debut as coach at Guilford after he came over from North Branford, where he was an assistant coach.
“I knew they would be a tough opponent because we faced them last year when I was at North Branford,” Salvati said. “I knew they had a lot coming back and their expectations. But I knew it would be a fight and our guys would respond. What an atmosphere here tonight.”
But it was Walcott (21 carries for 208 yards) who took over the game in the fourth quarter when Branford led things, 19-7. With Guilford struggling on offense due to penalties, Walcott broke loose on a 59-yard run with 10:23 remaining in the game. After Joseph Palmer’s kick, it was 19-14.
After Branford went three plays and out, Guilford had some guts to go for it on a 4th-and-2 on its own 11, but converted it when Charles Schioppo collected the first down. Four plays later, Walcott ran lead right again and scooted 72 yards to give the Indians the lead.
“I knew they were going to watch me on the outside,” Walcott said. “I used that to my benefit and used my speed to get the touchdowns. I knew they weren’t catching me.”
“He’s my guy,” Salvati said. “I coached him his freshman and sophomore years at North Branford. Now I have him here. He’s one of the best backs in the state.”
Branford’s chance to pull out a last-minute victory ended when the Hornets were called for an illegal man downfield on a 4th-and-5 pass play which they had converted.
“We catch the ball there and there’s the penalty,” Branford coach John Limone said. “That’s a tough situation. We’re moving the ball and on the lip of the cup in the red zone.”
Branford had led for most of the game, but Guilford did score first in the opening quarter when Walcott raced 22 yards for a score.
However, Kam Holmes (16 carries for 129 yards) scored on runs of 34 and 14 yards in the second quarter to give Branford a 12-7 lead at the break.
“I felt we took control before half,” Limone said. “We controlled the pace of the game for most of the second half.”
And the Hornets made it 19-7 with 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter when Sean Kelly (129 yards passing and 47 rushing) hit Mekhi Barnette with a 67-yard touchdown pass setting up the fourth quarter.
It was a tough loss for Branford, which was touted as one of the preseason favorites to reach the CIAC Class M playoffs in December.
“It stings,” Limone said. “We’ll bounce back, but this is a rivalry game. We also have to remember we have nine more of these things.”