By By Dean Bibens • 9/13/2021 4:00 AM EST
Guilford Head Football Coach Anthony Salvati knew that two years without a football season would take a toll on his team. The only question for the Grizzlies was how much of a toll that time away from the game would take.
Guilford opened his 2021 season by playing Jonathan Law on September 10, losing 34-7 in a home game at North Branford High School. Senior quarterback Niko Messina and a few of his teammates had to sit out the Grizzlies’ season opener after recent injuries.
“We had three major injuries in this game, including our starting quarterback Niko Messina. He hit his knee during our last pre-season game and we think it’s a bone bruise,” said coach Salvati. “The problem with the bruise is that it can’t plant in the bag and shoot like we’d like, so we’re not going to rush it back.”
Sophomore Tyler Hilgert started for Guilford as quarterback and threw a touchdown pass to senior Eric Dolmus on the team’s first drive. The touchdown helped the Grizzlies 7-0 in just two minutes into the game, but that score turned out to be their only TD of the evening.
“Tyler was in his first varsity game as a sophomore. He made mistakes, but I liked his balance in the bag,” said Salvati. “He didn’t have that do-it-yourself look that a lot of kids get when it’s their first real game. He threw the ball in time and missed in all the right places. I was very happy with how he performed for us.”
While Guilford lost the game by a large margin, coach Salvati said the final score was not really indicative of his team’s performance against Law. The Grizzlies trailed just one score, trailing 13-7 halfway through the quarter, before Law scored the final three touchdowns of the game.
“We’re a little undersized, but our boys didn’t back down. They flew over the field. We were legitimately a long way from being in control of that game,” said Salvati. “We have a young group of kids, with six or seven sophomores starting before us, so it will take time to develop as a team.”
In addition to Messina, Jack O’Brien, another key player the Grizzlies missed versus Law, was senior captain wide receiver Jack O’Brien, who suffered a preseason injury. Sophomore wide receiver Jake Jahnige was injured in the game with Law and was unable to play on the offensive side of the ball. Guilford also saw some other players with injuries leave the game.
“These injuries definitely hurt us to get into this game. And then we had three more injuries during the game, which brings us back even more,” said Salvati. “I think a lot of it has to do with the layoff. Your body isn’t used to the beating it takes when you play a full-contact sport and you take almost two years off the game.”
Junior running back Mike O’Brien, sophomore wide receiver Trevor Ridley and defending Ian Myers were also forced to leave the Law game due to injury. Though saddened by that, Coach Salvati was also pleased with how some of Guilford’s younger athletes were emerging in the game. This includes players like junior running back Dillon Burlakoff.
“One of the biggest bright spots of the game was Dillon Burlakoff. He ran every game and it took three or four guys to take him down,” said Salvati. “I think that’s positive for us to go into next week. I know some of these younger guys like some playing time want to get, and they’ll get a chance to prove themselves.”
One aspect of the game that Coach Salvati was happy with was the defensive side of the ball. Guilford moved from a 3-4 to a 4-3 at the start of this season and Salvati believes this is paying off for the Grizzlies.
“I still have faith in that formation, even though we allowed 34 points. Our defense had to play a lot and they were in a bad place for most of the game because the attack couldn’t get anything going,” said Salvati. “I’m excited to see this formation continue to grow on us.”
As he enters his third year as Guilford head coach, Salvati wants to see his team work it out on the grid. The Grizzlies will try to recover from their loss to Law when they play a non-conference game against New London on Friday, September 17.
“I knew this match was going to be a dogfight. The law has a big scope and they did the spread very well against us,” said Salvati. “We need to learn from our mistakes and be better next time we get on the field .”
Guilford 2021 Football Schedule
September 10: Jonathan Law 34, Guilford 7
Friday, September 17: in New London at 6 p.m.
Friday September 24: in Pomperaug at 6.30 pm
Friday, October 8: vs. East Lyme at 7pm
Friday, October 15: at Hillhouse at Bowen Field at 7 p.m.
Friday, October 29: vs. Brookfield at Guilford High School at 7pm
Friday, November 5: Bassick at Kennedy Stadium at 6:00 PM
Friday, November 12: vs. Branford at Guilford High School at 7pm
Friday, November 19: vs. East Haven at Guilford High School at 7pm
Wednesday Nov 24: at Hand at Surf Club at 7pm
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