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It was during a quieter moment Friday night, even with the outcome still in doubt, when Ledyard High teammates Ryan Wade and Cal Karpi had a momentary chance to exhale. And even laugh a little at utter absurdity of how there was no place they'd rather have been.
Wade's right hand looked as though it had gone 1-on-1 with a sausage grinder. And lost. Pinky and ring finger taped. Middle and index finger taped. Poor kid couldn't have given anybody the old one-digit salute if the feeling overcame him. His thumb looked fairly chipper at least, but a little lonely.
Karpi, meanwhile, had driblets of blood all over his yellow pants.
Neither was sure of the score.
Both asked how much time was left.
That's because the scoreboard wasn't working.
They were relatively sure Ledyard had the lead, although it had ping-ponged enough to create a little doubt.
It's here you realize it's fruitless to explain this to the uninitiated. You get it or you don't. And it's these nights, these games, these moments that become the memories of a lifetime.
And why high school football is intoxicating.
A little later, Wade, who played most of the game with the mangled fingers, was happily recounting Ledyard 26, Montville 21. He had just thrown his arms around the guy they call "Pasta," Ledyard assistant coach Jose Sanabria. Wade emerged from the embrace with some tears.
It all got to Wade at that moment: the emotion of the game, the carnage of his fingers and the relationships that will last through the days they're all ready for the rocking chair.
"Coach Buonocore talked to us at halftime about pride and joy. And to always play with both," Wade said.
Buonocore gathered his team in the end zone after the game, as he always does, to issue a brief, State Of The Colonels address. All he needed was three words:
"We're relevant again," he said.
That line indicates Buonocore believed his team wasn't, following two losses earlier this season.
"Why would we be?" he said after the game. "We've laid a couple eggs along the way. The guys have kept grinding away at it. Tonight was a signature win in that improvement process. Destiny is in our control at this point. Let's win each week."
And that was part of Buonocore's halftime speech to his team, too. Let's win each week. At some point, the seniors start to get it: There aren't many weeks left. All of this, what feels like a grind sometimes, starts to feel more precious. Maybe they hear alumni say things like "what I wouldn't give for one more Friday night."
Ledyard has three more "Friday nights" guaranteed, even though two of its last three games aren't on Fridays. Funny how daylight at this time of year is the perfect metaphor for seniors: It's all fading fast. So you better capitalize on all you can.
So maybe the Ledyards will be accused of being a little lucky. Down 14-13, quarterback John Rainey was sacked rather authoritatively by Peter Utz, who forced a fumble. Ledyard's Joe Carter picked up the ball and ran for a touchdown.
But it was the same Carter, who, on the ensuing kickoff, ran down Montville's Jeremiah Crowley, who sure looked headed for an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Carter's effort denied Crowley a touchdown. His defense's goal-line stand did it again four plays later. That's how it works at this time of year: It's all fading fast. So you better capitalize on all you can.
"There were some situations when we could have tucked it and called it a night," Buonocore said. "I'm proud it turned into a great night for them. For these seniors, opportunities are getting shorter and shorter. There's only three left now."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.