What better way is there for a football team to start a game than having its returner run back the opening kickoff for a touchdown?
That’s exactly what Khalil Eason did for Brunswick School on Saturday afternoon against Suffield Academy, returning the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown – a score that gave the Bruins a spark from the start in their first game at Cosby Field since the 2019 season.
Seizing the lead from the outset thanks to Eason, Brunswick played from ahead throughout and proceeded to post a decisive 28-14 victory over visiting Suffield Academy.
With the impressive victory against a physical Suffield squad, the Bruins evened their record at 1-1, heading into next week’s showdown against rival Salisbury School.
Positive feelings surfaced quickly for the Bruins in Saturday’s game. Eason caught the kickoff at the 1-yard line and showcased his speed and shiftiness, making a couple of cuts, following a few blocks, then sprinting down the right sideline for a 99-yard touchdown. The ensuing point-after-attempt was converted and the Bruins promptly had a 7-0 lead 13 seconds into the first quarter.
“I liked that, I think we should do that every week,” Brunswick coach Mike Hannigan said with a chuckle. “It’s great when something like that happens. You feel good right away and you don’t have those first-play jitters.”
Eason was, of course, hoping to make something happen on the game’s opening kickoff. Then all of a sudden, he found himself with a lot of open space in front of him.
“My team always believes in me, the coaches believe in me,” said Eason, a senior. “I knew that was a chance to get the game started on a high level, so I saw a hole open up, took what the defense gave me and it just happened to be a touchdown, but it wouldn’t have happened without my teammates.”
Indeed, special teams touchdowns of that length don’t occur often.
“You don’t expect to score on opening plays like that you just want to get your team in good position to score and it was a great play.”
Senior quarterback Danny Lauter, making his first varsity start before the team’s home crowd at Cosby Field, threw a touchdown pass, while efficiently and effectively running the Bruins’ spread offense.
“I thought we were good on offense, we just kept moving the ball,” the Georgetown University-bound Lauter said. “That’s what we prepared for all week, they’re a great opponent, but we just came out firing on all cylinders and that’s what we like to see.”
Playing in the team’s home-opener was a longtime coming for Lauter.
“It feels good to get the win at Cosby, our first win at home in two years,” the Bruins’ signal-caller said.
After senior defensive back Will O’Connor helped halt Suffield’s opening drive with a tackle that resulted in a 4-yard loss, the Bruins scored on their first offensive possession to seize a two-score lead. Seniors Hunter Clark and Chris Gaine split the carries on Brunswick’s first drive that was capped by Lauter’s 22-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Riley Gilsenan. The scoring strike gave Brunswick a 14-0 advantage at the 5:27 mark of the first quarter.
“It was a one high safety look, so he ran a nice corner, got open and scored,” Lauter said of his touchdown pass to Gilsenan.
A sack of Suffield senior quarterback Declan McNamara resulted in a 15-yard loss, halting the visitors’ second drive of the game, but the Tigers reached the end zone on their third possession to cut into the Bruins’ lead.
Senior running back Mazzie Harris’ 38-yard run keyed a 45-yard drive that was concluded by 1-yard scoring run through the right side, making it 14-6 with 3:25 left in the second quarter.
Brunswick entered halftime with another boost of momentum, however. Effectively mixing their running and passing game, the home team went on a long drive and scored just before the second quarter ended. A 15-yard Lauter run, coupled by an 11-yard screen pass to Eason keyed the pivotal drive. Gaine’s 5-yard run off a sweep to the left put the Bruins on top, 21-6.
Senior Michael Burton, Cliff Belnap (senior) and junior Miles Walker were among some of the offensive linemen that aided the Bruins’ running attack.
“The line blocked so much and we took it to them,” Gaine said. “We knew going in that we wanted to establish the run game and we did it really well. “Our offensive linemen – they’re big dudes, they know their stuff and they’re smart.”
Hannigan liked the balance he saw offensively from his squad.
“We always want to run the football, but at the same time you want to be 50/50 as much as possible, because you don’t want to give away too many tendencies,” he said. “But you also want to spread the ball out to your playmakers. So we spread it out to our receivers, as well as the running backs.”
In the third quarter, Suffield marched all the way to the Bruins’ 1-yard line, but Brunswick put forth an impressive goal-line stand. Clark at linebacker and defensive lineman Jurgis Schmedlen made key tackles during the drive, that was ended by a Tigers fumble at the 7-yard line.
“Our guys love the bend but don’t break mentality,” Hannigan said. “That little extra pressure gets them up. There’s no margin for error and they fill gaps. The kids are buying in at practice and they are executing what we are coaching them to do every day.”
Senior defensive back Jalen Johnson put the Bruins on top by three scores, when he intercepted a McNamara pass and ran it back 10 yards untouched into the end zone. The touchdown off the turnover gave Brunswick a 28-6 lead with just 3:25 remaining in the final quarter.
“They caught me the first play of the game, they ran the same play and I said if they run it again, I was going to take it to the house and that’s what I did,” said Johnson, who along with senior Charlie Johnson, helped anchor the Bruins’ secondary. “Overall, our defense did a good job. We made some mistakes, but no one is perfect. I feel like we’re going to be a great team.”
Senior George Villis and Clark helped pace the Bruins at linebacker – a group that slowed down the Tigers’ running game, along with the defensive line.
McNamara scrambled away from pressure and connected with senior wideout Paul Fuller for a 72-yard scoring strike with 3:01 remaining. Harris’ 2-point conversion run made it 28-14, but the Bruins effectively ran out the clock once they recovered the ensuing onsides kick.
While the hard-to-tackle Eason and Gain led the Bruins’ ground game, Lauter connected with receivers such as Delgado and senior Ashton Winegardner. Up next for the Bruins is their road matchup against Salisbury.
“They’re a great opponent one of our rivals,” Lauter said. “It’s something we’re all looking forward to – going up to Salisbury.”