Tavitian, Dempsey lead Lions in loss to Hillhouse

Neither Max Tavitian's eight-catch, 154-yard game nor the fact that the Foran football team scored 27 points was enough last Thursday to tip the scales in the Lions' Southern Connecticut Conference Tier 2 road encounter with Hillhouse High at New Haven's historic Bowen Field.

The Academics came into the game with an excellent game plan, running 61 plays while establishing an offense of 464 yards (360 of it on the ground) to wear down Foran's defense in a 42-27 win.

"They used a pound and ground offense and it worked for them," said Foran coach Tom Drew. "At times, we stopped them. Most of the time, we didn't. You have to tip your hat to them."

Led by a 166-yard (on 23 carries) running game from senior Neal Eley, Hillhouse, now 3-6, sprinted out to a 26-0. The Academics have won three of their last four.

Hillhouse took the opening drive and, using only one pass play, went 56 yards in seven plays capped off by a 17-yard run by Eley. A pass from Demelle Turner to Rajon Sanders made it an 8-0 game just 2:17 in.

Foran gave itself outstanding field position on Rich Piscitelli's 34-yard return, beginning its first series of the contest on the Hillhouse 41. After picking up two first downs, the Lions found themselves in the Academics' 17-yard line. But it didn't go well from there.

Unable to get another first down and driven back to the 27, Foran's Koray Demirhan attempted a 35-yard field goal which was blocked and recovered by the Academics at their own 4-yard line.

Four plays into the possession, Turner spotted James Gibson opened down the right side line. His perfectly-thrown pass was taken in by Gibson and he was never touched, going 79 yards for the score with 3:30 left in the first quarter.

Hillhouse then tacked on two more scores, one on a 39-yard run by Gulley and another on a 15-yard completion from Turner to DeShaun Poole.

The Lions finally broke through on their next series, as they went 59 yards in nine plays. Once again, they were given a boost by a second lengthy kickoff return, this one for 21 yards by Caden Ondek.

When it appeared that the Foran offense would stall out, Tavitian came through.

He hauled in a pass from junior quarterback Andrew Janek and went 23 yards from the Hillhouse 49 down to the 26. The completion came when Foran was faced with a 4th-and-two situation.

On the next play, Janek ripped off 11 yards on a keeper and Tom Dempsey closed out the drive with an eight-yard run with 5:16 left in the second quarter. Demirhan hit the extra point and Foran was down, 26-7.

The Lions got seven points closer with only 40 seconds remaining in the half.

Janek (10-of-20 for 188 yards and two touchdowns) connected with Will Phelan for a 19-yard TD play. Demirhan then made his second extra point of the game, sending Foran off to halftime trailing, 26-14.

But Hillhouse scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter, both on runs by Eley (43 yards and 6 yards) to put the game pretty much out of reach.

Foran did cut into the deficit twice.

Tavitian caught a 23-yard pass from Janek with 1:18 showing in the third.

Dempsey's five-yard score with 7:45 elapsed in the fourth quarter made it 42-27.

The Lions were unsuccessful in their on-sides kick and Hillhouse ground out eight plays, aided by a Foran penalty, to run the clock out.

"This was definitely a good win for us," said Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle, whose 2016 team won the Class M title, upsetting St. Joe's, 42-21. "It's been a tough season for us. We have a bunch of young kids and, therefore, the mistakes have come often. But any win in this league, which I consider the best in the state, is a good one. They never come easy."

The Lions finished with 273 yards of offense.

Dempsey, running behind Billy Ives, Tanner Lucy, Ryan Zarnoch, Justin DeEll and Gabe Dias, led all ground gainers with 69 yards (22 attempts) and two touchdowns.

Foran also had 16 first downs to Hillhouse's 21.

There were 15 penalties called; eight against Hillhouse (for 50 yards) and seven assessed to Foran (for 40 yards).

Foran turned the ball over two times (once on a fumble and once on an interception). Hillhouse had one turnover.

Gulley backed up Eley with 113 yards on 13 tries.

The loss left Foran with a 1-8 record heading into its traditional Thanksgiving Day morning contest with cross-city rival Law which, at 6-3 and in the 10th spot in the playoff chase, will need a victory and hope for teams above them to lose.

"Again, we're going to look at some film and see how we can improve," Drew said. "We have one last shot (at home. Our town takes this game very seriously. It's big and for me (he was an assistant defensive coach at Law before coming over to Foran this year), it really means a lot.

“But we still have to realize that was is important is working hard going into the game and trying to get better. That's been our plan all year long."