Football beats No. 9 Bentley, wins NE-10 title


Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells

Connor Degenhardt holds up a football during the football game versus Bentley University, Nov. 6, West Haven.

The moment quarterback Connor Degenhardt’s knee hit the turf and the final 30 seconds ticked off the clock, a flurry of Gatorade showers flew on the New Haven sideline; football was conference champions for the first time since 2012.

Players embraced around the field, reveling in the happiness and relief that a season-long grind culminated in hoisting the trophy up for the Northeast-10 (NE-10) Conference Title. Alumni looked on with pride in a program that has established themselves as a perennial power in the region.

The New Haven football team celebrates after beating No. 9 Bentley for NE-10 title, Nov 6., West Haven (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

Even though there is another week of the regular season, it was Championship Saturday when No. 24 New Haven welcomed No. 9 Bentley University in a matchup of unbeatens in the Northeast-10 conference. There was a buzz in the air as over 3,000 fans from both schools lined the sidelines and filled Ralph F. DellaCamera Stadium for the Senior Day matchup.

In 2019, the Chargers tied with Bentley for first place in the conference, eventually losing the title based on their loss to the Falcons earlier in the season. This history between the two is not forgotten by either side, contributing to the tensions between the two sides.

New Haven got out to a dream start. The Chargers broke out an offensive attack that was one of their most balanced of the season, with Degenhardt connecting to receivers and their dual threat running backs finding holes in the Falcons defense.

Running back (RB) Shamar Logan, who has been hampered all season by an ankle injury, broke the drive open with a 23-yard rush to get New Haven across midfield. After some more gains, Degenhardt pushed his way into the endzone on a sneak to give New Haven a 7-0 lead on their first drive.

The Chargers standout defense did their part, allowing just one first down and forcing a punt in Bentley’s first drive. In seemingly seconds, the first quarter was over and New Haven held a 7-0 lead with possession.

A collection of stalled drives and punts kept the score there until New Haven got the ball deep in their own territory. On third down at their 13-yard line, the Bentley rush sacked Degenhardt from behind. This caused a fumble that Bentley recovered, putting themselves deep into the red zone. In an instant, the momentum shifted to the ninth ranked team in the nation.

Cornerback Khyon Fitzpatrick intercepts a pass in the end zone. Nov. 6, West Haven. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

The defense had other plans. Bentley dropped back to pass in their first play following the turnover, searching for the endzone. Instead, cornerback Khyon Fitzpatrick rose above the Falcons receiver to come down with an interception.

On the next drive, RB Zack Mauro showed why he was the reigning NE-10 Offensive Player of the Week, rattling off a few big runs and bringing the Chargers closer to the endzone. With just a minute remaining in half, Degenhardt used his legs for a nine-yard rush to extend their lead to 14-0.

With 44 seconds left and knowing they got the ball out of half, Bentley came out aggressive in hopes to score. This backfired as CB Shawn Tafe picked off a poorly thrown pass, giving New Haven the ball again with 13 seconds. An 18-yard Degenhardt pass and an 11-yard Mauro rush gave kicker Briant DeFelice a 38-yard field goal chance with just one second left.

The kick split the uprights as time expired, giving New Haven a 17-0 lead into half.

Bentley quickly reminded the fans that they were not to be taken lightly, scoring their first touchdown of the game after consecutive runs a minute into the third quarter. Bentley gathered momentum as they forced a New Haven punt on the ensuing drive, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Chargers a first down and new life.

New Haven took advantage of this, as Degenhardt connected with receiver Dev Holmes for a 20-yard touchdown.

Wide receiver Dev Holmes flips in the air after making a catch against Bentley University, Nov. 6, West Haven. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

In the fourth quarter, after the defense kept Bentley off the board, Degenhardt rushed for another touchdown to extend their lead to 31-7. Bentley would respond with another touchdown, but it would be too little, too late as they could catch the Chargers offense.

New Haven walked away with a 31-14 statement win, solidifying their spot as the best team in the conference and one of the best in the region.

The Chargers move to 8-1 (7-0 NE-10) and face Franklin Pierce University for the final game of the season. If they win over Franklin Pierce, New Haven would clinch their first undefeated season in the NE-10 conference since 2012.

“It’s a real accomplishment for our kids and I’m proud of them,” New Haven head coach Chris Pincince said. “We started out about 10 weeks ago, we didn’t even know where to go, and [the seniors] led the way and I’m really excited for them.”

Bentley falls to 8-1 (6-1 NE-10) and loses the conference championship. Despite this loss, they will likely still be ranked and have a spot in the postseason. Depending on how the rankings end up, there is a chance these two teams play each other again before the season ends.

“We’ll be back here,” a Bentley player called out to a section of New Haven students as he walked back to the locker room.

New Haven will celebrate the conference title now, but their season isn’t over yet. With hopes of a home playoff game, it is just beginning.

“We knew we had to move the ball, secure the game,” said Mauro. “We just won, but we’ve still got another game.”