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By Michael J. Russo



            The weather on Saturday, Oct.12, 1946, as reported in the Branford Review, was not cooperative. On that October day it was recorded that “2,000 hardy fans braved the elements.” In spite of the weather the Branford high School football team prevailed in its inaugural game against soon to be arch-rival East Haven, by a 21-7 score. Playing in intermittent rain, Branford was led by Joe Petela, who scored the first touchdown on a three yard run and by Frank Reynolds, who scored twice from 4 and 15 yards out.

            On Thanksgiving Day 1993, the two teams met for the 52nd time-again Branford was the victor-final score 34-6. Branford leads the series with 26 wins. East Haven has won 23 times and there have been three ties. Over the last 20 games dating back to 1973, Branford has been dominant, winning 17 times. During the early years of the rivalry however, East Haven had its way with the Hornets winning 14 of 16 games from 1948 – 1962.

            From 1946-1949 the teams met not once but twice. In 1948, the two battled to their first tie, an 0-0 struggle. It would be another 18 years until the next tie, when in 1966, the game ended 6-6. The following year also saw the last tie between the two teams, 0-0.

            The years have seen shutouts and blow outs. The Hornets handed the Yellow Jackets a white-washing in 1947 in the second of two meetings by a score of 7-0. It was the Easties however, who came up with an impressive string of of four straight shutouts from 1953-1956, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 69-0. The Easties also own the most lopsided victory-46-0 tally in the 1969 game.

            This annual game is a game on par with Ansonia-Derby and other long standing area rivalries. Friendly wagers between politicians are part of its heritage and a season’s success often seems based on the outcome of the game. For fans in both towns it is “The Game.” Each Thanksgiving Day it is Branford’s red and white against East Haven’s yellow and blue.

            Cheerleaders, pom poms waving, have been known to cruise through the opposition’s downtown, car horns blaring, while surprised onlooker’s stare curiously. Just part of the tradition. The pride of the season can be lost or salvaged on the outcome of this game alone. Such a case can be made for the Eastie’s in the 1991 game. They woke up Thanksgiving morning with a record of 0 wins and 9 losses, but proceeded to shut down Branford’s offense, winning the game 3-0 on a last second field goal. What was even sweeter for the Easties, was tha tit came on Branford’s home turf and broke a 10 game losing streak.

            Part of the beauty of sport is that sometimes unlikely heroes are born. In the fall of 1973, while most freshmen were blocking dummies and dreaming of future glory, my classmate was selected team manager. A year later on Thanksgiving Day 1974 that same team manager was transformed in a Hornet hero, splitting the uprights for what turned out to be the winning point after a touchdown in Branford’s thrilling 15-14 victory at East Haven’s Crisafi Field. The dream continued for that ex-manager as he went on to gain All-l Housatonic League honors as a wide receiver. Nice memories, nice tradition.


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