Football Set New Program Bar as Division Champs
John Lecardo/The Guilford Courier
The final record may show more losses than wins, but Guilford football came away as true winners in a history-making year.
Finishing 5-6, Head Coach Tom Unger’s squad opened the campaign with rough losses to FCIAC foe Wilton and then Shelton to begin 0-2 prior to capturing five out of its next seven contests, including a 35-20 triumph over Hillhouse on Nov.8 that gave the Indians their first win over the Academics since 1999, and more importantly, the SCC Division II West crown—Guilford’s first outright division title in the program’s history.
“We met some of our preseason goals. We wanted to win our division for the first time in our history. Accomplishing that was big for our program,” said Unger, whose team was a perfect 4-0 in divisional action. “We were able to beat Hillhouse and the fourth leading rusher in Connecticut history in Harold Cooper. We did some excellent things this past season, but we have a lot of offseason work to do to compete with the top teams in our league. Winning our division was a big step for our program. “
At the top of an in-depth senior class were senior co-captains in offensive and defensive lineman Ian Robinson (Bo Mooradian Award) and quarterback/safety Joe Nault (All-SCC Team; team MVP), who finished his final slate at Guilford with 1,021 rushing yards for the year, along with 11 touchdowns on the ground to compliment his 680 yards and 13 scores through the air.
“Ian was our starting center this year and also saw time at guard. He sets a great example of how to be a student athlete; he pushes his teammates to excel and gives a great effort at all times,” Unger said. “Joe was a three-year starting quarterback and at safety. Joe has done it all for the Indians.”
Versatility seemed to be a theme among the seniors with inside linebacker/offensive lineman Ford Linell (team-leading 91 tackles; All-SCC Team; defensive MVP), two-way linemen Dane Lawrence (All-SCC Team; Iron Man Award) and Aaron Cowee (Most Improved Player), running backs/linebackers Eric Zergiebel (534 yards; 3 TDs) and David Knapp (1,063 yards, 13 TDs; All-SCC Team; offensive MVP), receiver/defensive back Carson Sperry, tight end/linebacker Fred Trotta, tight end/defensive lineman Derek Battick, running back/linebacker K.C. Horton, along with receivers/defensive back fielders Zach Soffer and Jake Smith.
“Ford also played guard, tackle, and tight end during his varsity career. He was a physical blocker and a punishing tackler on defense,” said Unger, whose team amassed over 3,000 rushing yards. “Dane was the strongest player on the team, and he really made huge improvements over his career and was extremely dominant on the offensive line. Aaron Cowee did a great job and was one of our most consistent players. Eric did a great job adding the role of I-formation fullback to his resume. He is a physical yet smooth runner. David added steadily to his rushing total each season and had a breakout year this season. He is a great outside linebacker as well and an extremely intelligent football player. Carson was a key contributor in the secondary during his career and was an excellent blocking wide receiver. Unfortunately he suffered a lower leg injury against East Haven, cutting his season short. Fred was probably one of the hardest working players I had the pleasure to coach. He was one of our most reliable defensive players playing inside and outside linebacker. Derek was a force on the defensive line this past season. He moved from linebacker his junior year and quickly established himself as a key component of our defense. KC is one of the most dynamic backs Guilford has ever had. Unfortunately an injury during the lacrosse season caused him to miss his senior year. Zack returned to football after a year off and did a great job as a corner and wide receiver. This was Jake’s first year playing for Guilford. He added depth to the wide receivers and defensive backfield.”
In addition to the title-clinching victory, Unger recalled memorable gridiron moments with a catch-and-run score by junior wideout/defensive back Tony Pensa (22 catches, 487 yards, 11 TDs) in a loss to Foran and two scoring rushes by Nault in a win over Law that combined for over 160 yards.
While seeing many key components graduate, Unger remains optimistic for a future that includes sophomore signal caller Jack Jankura (1-0 as starter with a TD pass versus East Haven), plus a strong junior receiving corps in Pensa and Nash Singleton (also 2 interceptions on defense).
“The graduation of key players will be tough, but we feel confident that our younger players will step up and fill their voids,” said Unger, who’s Indians also had a freshmen/sophomore team that went 8-2. “The seniors have left a great legacy that the younger players will be hungry to build upon. Sophomores Jack Jankura, Nate Tepley, Ben Fazzina, and Mike Filley had excellent seasons earning key varsity roles. Tony Pensa had a breakout year as a wide receiver and on defense this season. He brings a great attitude to the field and inspires his teammates. Juniors Jake Lundberg, Nash Singleton, Tom Stokes, Tyler Mulone, and Matt Eckman all earned increased roles this year and will be looked to this offseason to step up and help lead the team.”