by Dillon Meehan
A shootout in the last conference home game of the season ended with the football team on the wrong side of the win/loss column.
Central Connecticut (2-8, 0-5 NEC) fell to Sacred Heart (8-2, 4-1 NEC) 35-27 on Saturday afternoon at Arute Field to remain winless in Northeast Conference play this season.
“The kids did what they did all year, they found a way,” Pioneers head coach Mark Nofri said of his team after the win.
Sacred Heart quarterback RJ Noel threw for 327 yards and five scores, mostly to Southington’s Tyler Dube, who had 12 receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
Dube was excited to play well so close to his hometown and talked about it after the game. “It felt pretty good,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it all week. It’s always good to have a homecoming.”
Blue Devil running back Brenden Lytton, filling in for an injured Rob Holloman, ran for 193 yards and touchdowns on 30 carries in the loss.
“Coach just calls my number and I do what I have to do,” Lytton said when asked about his impressive play.
The first quarter was mostly a defensive battle between both sides but special teams played a major role, with Central’s Matt Braddock recovering a fumbled punt return by Sacred Heart in Pioneers territory. However, the Blue Devils could not capitalize and turned the ball over after Brenden Lytton was stopped short of the goal line on fourth down.
Central bounced back and was able to score first after sophomore linebacker Keir Minor blocked Jamie Ross’s punt. Josh Alaeze recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown with 1:33 left in the opening quarter.
The first quarter ended with Central up 7-0, marking only the third time the Pioneers were held scoreless in the first quarter this season.
Special teams continued to play a major role into the second quarter.
After a short punt by CCSU’s Ed Groth, the Pioneers took over at the Blue Devil’s 40-yard line. The Pioneers used a mix of running and passing plays to get the ball down to the Blue Devil two-yard line. Noel faked a quarterback draw and made a jump pass to a wide open Tim Goodwin for a score to tie it up at seven.
The Pioneers took over again a few plays later after a Lytton fumble, and Noel found Jackson King on a fade route for his second score of the game and the lead with 8:43 left in second quarter.
The Blue Devils bounced back a few minutes later after junior linebacker CJ Morrison intercepted Noel’s pass and was taken down at the 32 yard line. Two plays later, Lytton took a handoff 32 yards for a score to tie the game at 14.
The Pioneers put themselves ahead again after a long drive, capped off when Noel found Dube with a seven-yard back shoulder fade for a touchdown to take a 21-14 lead in the final minute of the first half.
The Blue Devils had a chance to cut the lead to four, but Groth missed two field goals in the final seconds. The first was from 37 yards out but a Pioneers player was offsides, setting up a 32-yard attempt that was also wide right.
The Blue Devils were able to score first in the second half.
After getting favorable field position due to a fair catch interference penalty, CCSU had the ball at midfield. The Blue Devils promptly drove downfield with a big run by Lytton, followed by a 29-yard Tyrell Homes reception, who ran out of bounds at the 13 yard line.
Junior quarterback Nick SanGiacomo then found Holmes again from five yards out for a touchdown to tie the game at 21 with just under 11 minutes left in the third quarter.
When the fourth quarter started, both the Pioneers and Blue Devils traded big plays in attempts to pull away with the win.
Sacred Heart’s Moses Webb took a short pass from Noel and immediately ran up field and sped past two defenders en route to a 63-yard touchdown to take a seven point lead with under 14 minutes left in the game.
CCSU immediately answered back with a 54-yard touchdown run by Lytton, however Groth missed the extra point attempt and CCSU trailed Sacred Heart 28-27.
The missed extra point was crucial, especially after Sacred Heart drove all the way down the field and Noel found Dube, who made an impressive catch over a defender for an 18-yard score to put the Pioneers up for good.
Central returns to Arute Field for their final home game of the season on Saturday, when they take on Howard at 1 p.m.