"GN" with big road test against North Branford on Friday night.
WINSTED: While every game is their next big game, the one the Gilbert/Northwestern Yellowjackets football team are about to play on Friday night on the road just might be one of the biggest in recent history.
I say recent because in their season opener, “GN” beat a quality Cromwell team by a 34-27 score which was a top three wins in school history kind of game.
Two weeks later the next big test comes up for head Coach Scott Salius and company when they travel to take on North Branford at 6:30 p.m.
Yes, that North Branford team. The one that has won 21-straight regular season games and made it to the Class S championship a year ago, a game they lost by a 59-26 margin to Arkeel Newsome and Ansonia.
North Branford is a traditional powerhouse in the Pequot West Division and has won their first two games of the year but no in particularly strong fashion.
They beat a weakened Haddam-Killingworth by a 39-0 score and just got past Ellington by a 14-6 score in week two.
"They don't have a lot of returning players from the team that went to the state title game. They have a huge program. They are a program of about 90 kids." Salius said. "They are big and athletic and it's a quality program. They are very well coached and it's a team that every year it's going to be a really good, one or two loss team."
Is this the year for the Yellowjackets after posting four straight seasons with at least seven wins?
Consider this; over the past four years, the two teams have posted identical 29-11 records but with “GN” in the deep Class M division, it has amounted to just one playoff berth in those four years.
An 8-2 record only puts teams within striking distance so every week is critical for Salius and a team that has fired on all cylinders so far this year.
Tony Ortiz has been off the charts so far, rushing for 432 yards in two games with eight touchdowns, Newsome-like numbers (if Newsome could only play more than a quarter or two).
John Lippincott has rushed for 215 while scoring three times on the ground and by throwing for two others.
Salius is getting great defense from his team when it counts.
Against Cromwell, a pair of fourth quarter drives were thwarted and Granby scored twice in the second half in week two with the game in hand for the ‘Jackets.
In days gone by, teams like Cromwell and North Branford were sometimes rung up as losses at the start of the year.
Keeping the score respectable was the measure of the day but not this version of “GN” football.
This team has gotten used to winning and knows how to win, thanks to a great coaching staff that has created that culture.
Special athletes like Lippincott and Ortiz help but if not for the entire structure of a program that is now looked upon as one of the best in the region, they might just be two good players on an average team.