(Captains Brett Robbins, Jack Shauck, Bryce Karstetter, and Matt Wolak helped the Panthers defeat North Branford 44-0)
Junior quarterback Bryce Karstetter threw two touchdowns and ran for another as the Cromwell/Portland Panthers crushed visiting North Branford 44-0 at Pierson Park last Friday night, improving the team to 2-0 under first-year head coach Randell Bennett.
It marked the second straight season the Panthers have shutout an opponent in their home opener, also blanking Coginchaug 55-0 last September.
“It feels good. North Branford is always going to play tough and coach Basil’s team are always going to play hard,” said Bennett, who added that defense was going to be the key this season, “We knew we had lot coming back on offense and I told the defense that it was going to take a team effort for us to win the Pequot again and fight for that state championship. They took a big step tonight by shutting out a good North Branford team.”
Brett Robbins exploded for 163 rushing yards and scored the game’s first two touchdowns. The senior is one of several backs and receivers who got touches Friday night.
“We had an injury to Kittrell Lauray and we had decided that we were going to build things around him. Once he got hurt we didn’t know who was going to be that guy and Brett has done a great job of being that guy for us,” added Bennett, who also got quality carries from Bryan Lockwood, Justin Stergos and Devon Kilham, “Any of these guys can carry the ball and they’ve stepped up when their name has been called.”
The stable of backs had room to roam thanks to the work in the trenches, which is Bennett’s bread-and-butter. The coaching staff had to shift things around on the offensive line Friday night, but the unit didn't miss a beat as seniors Matt Wolak, Kyle Martin, Max Colavecchio, Jack Shauck, and junior Ismar Kandic paved the way to nearly 250 total rushing yards.
“The familiarity of the seniors allows them to play a lot of different positions and it makes it easier for us to sneak a guy in and still be successful,” added Bennett, “It’s been a lot easier because I was the JV coach and Bryce was my quarterback so we are real familiar with his skill set and what he likes to do. That made building the offense around him pretty easy. A lot of these guys played last year so we know their strengths, we know their weaknesses and we’re not going to ask them to do things they can’t.”
Both of Karstetter’s touchdown tosses went to his favorite target Dianta Highsmith, who nabbed five balls for 107 yards. The second of Highsmith’s scores came with 15 second remaining in the first half when Karstetter delivered a beautiful throw down the left sideline, which the senior receiver hauled in for a 40-yard score, providing the home team a commanding 36-point lead at the break.
Earlier in the second quarter, Liam Coleman helped setup Highsmith’s other score when he made a great adjustment in between a pair of North Branford defenders to come down with a 34-yard reception down the right sideline. Two plays later, Highsmith scored from 31 yards out after catching a bubble screen and shaking several defenders.
The offensive supplied the highlights but it was the defense that did the dirty work, holding the Thunderbirds out of the end zone and adding a safety in the third quarter when Lauray and Highsmith combined to tackle running back Lou Raffone in the end zone.
Lauray has a cast on his right hand which prevents him from carrying the ball on offense, but it hasn’t stopped him from creating chaos on the defensive side of the ball.
Kilham polished off the game’s scoring with a 37-yard sprint late in the third quarter.
So far it’s been another great September for the Panthers, who opened the season with a convincing 54-20 road victory over Rockville.
Despite the fast start, there’s no rest for Bennett and his boys.
“We’re happy right now, but Sunday morning I’ll be stressed out again trying to figure out a way to beat Lewis Mills.”
The game against the Burlington-based Spartans is this Friday, Sept 22 at Pierson Park. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin