Rivals since the beginning of time, the East Haven Yellowjackets and the Branford Hornets went head to head at the 77th annual Thanksgiving Beehive Bowl on Friday, November 23rd. Usually played on Thanksgiving morning, the big game got pushed back one day this year due to extreme cold weather conditions. Despite the exciting season the Yellowjackets have had, they took the loss against Branford in the final game of the season.
Before the 2018-2019 EHHS football season started, players were conditioning 2 hours per day and any players with failing grades ran extra after practice. The season officially kicked off with a home game against Bassick where the Yellowjackets made their first and biggest victory of the season, 51- 0, which paved the way for the rest of the season. The team continued on through the season with multiple games where the opposing team finished with no points, such as Xavier High School (Middletown, CT) and Bethel High School. A mentionable win was against Lyman Hall, which Head Coach, Scott Benoit named as his proudest moment of season. The Thanksgiving Day game was the only home-game loss of the season.
On Friday, November 23rd, The Beehive Bowl took place and soon as the game began, Branford was leading the way to victory by scoring a touchdown right off the bat. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 12-0, Branford in lead. Once the second quarter came into play, East Haven picked up the pace, specifically when player Evan Damian kicked a field goal that was thirty-one yards and gained the team their only three points of the game. Branford retaliated with a touchdown and conversion that brought the team to 20 points by half-time, the winning score the team finished with.
The famous halftime show that usually consists of performance of the school band playing along with it’s color guard show was cancelled. Due to the game being postponement, the EHHS Marching Band and EHHS Colorguard were unable to play. The EHHS Pom Pom team, however, performed and kept the audience alive and full of pep during the intermission.
Branford continued on making many plays, although they did not score any further points. Branford players simply kept the game interesting with a strong defense against East Haven, causing the Yellowjackets to fumble twice. Specifically, Yellowjacket quarterback, Tanner Devito was taken down by Branford player Ian McDonald for a sack. The game resulted in a 20-3 score, Yellowjackets taking the loss and losing the chance to proceed to Finals.
East Haven resident for decades, Salvatore Gentile, attends the Thanksgiving Day game every year. He mentioned that the game was the “highlight of Thanksgiving, waking up in the morning and going with my family, then leaving and meeting up later to sit down for the turkey dinner is the best way to spend the holiday.” The fact that the game was postponed this year was a bit of a dissapointment, and was the first year in a while that Salvatore did not attend the game and watched it from home. When asked about the loss, he was very reassuring and said “the team losing was sad is not that big of a deal, what’s most important to me is the event as a whole. Besides, the team did very well this season and should be proud of that.” This is a good example of how the game affects many East Haven residents. The Thanksgiving day game is an event that brings the town together on a holiday, drinking hot cocoa, rooting for the high school team, anticipating the feasts taking place later on in the day. Of course it is great when the Yellowjackets win the Beehive Bowl, but the win is not everything to those attending.
As for the team and the coach, there is a bit of a different outlook on the game. Coach Benoit says, “Thanksgiving is about tradition which does make it somewhat different than the other games. however, we do not place the importance of any single game over the others. each game is equally important.” This shows that despite the fact that it is a holiday game, the game is equally as important as the other games of the season so there isn’t necessarily any extra pressure put on it as far as bragging rights go, what makes the game important is the progression to playoffs that come with the win. According to senior player Josh Rao, “Everybody played satisfied, like they were fine with the score.” The team finished the season with an overall 7 wins - 3 losses.
Overall, the 2018-2019 Football season was a well-rounded, successful season that everyone can be proud of. Coach Benoit remarked, “Overall we had a good season. We had marked improvement in our win loss record. We made great strides academically and socially.” Josh Rao described it as “A successful year. I liked it. This year, everyone really wanted to play.” The season was an improvement from past years and was one that hopefully kicks off a future of seasons just like this one with Benoit being head coach, who has a strong belief in the future of the team, “I believe the future is bright for our program. We have a good nucleus returning next year. A foundation has been somewhat set and our expectations have grown.” Based off of this season and Benoit’s strong outlook, the future does seem bright for the team, and hopefully next year the Yellowjackets even make it to playoffs by winning the Beehive Bowl.