Ledyard wins with dramatic finish

Ledyard's Alex Manwaring breaks away from a Fitch defender for a big gain during the Colonels' 14-12 win over the Falcons on Thanksgiving morning. Manwaring caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with 4.6 seconds left to give Ledyard the dramatic victory.
Ledyard's Alex Manwaring breaks away from a Fitch defender for a big gain during the Colonels' 14-12 win over the Falcons on Thanksgiving morning. Manwaring caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with 4.6 seconds left to give Ledyard the dramatic victory. Abigail Pheiffer/The Day Buy Photo

Ledyard - The terminology for Ledyard High School's game-winning play, according to coach Jim Buonocore, was "double post with a z-corner route."

Ledyard's Alex Manwaring had a simpler explanation.

"It was a variation of 'get open,'" he grinned.

Manwaring dragged across the right side of the end zone and caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from John Rainey with 4.6 seconds remaining as the Colonels rallied to beat Fitch, 14-12, before a delirious crowd at Bill Mignault Field.

"This team has too much heart to lie down," Manwaring said.

It was the second time in a week that Ledyard (9-1) won in the closing seconds. Rainey scrambled for a 14-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 22 seconds to lift his team to a 28-21 win over Branford on Nov. 17.

Just call them the Cardiac Colonels.

"We're a grind it out type of team that is going to play hard for 48 minutes," Buonocore said. "We find ways."

Ledyard clinched a CIAC Class M home quarterfinal game. It will play host to Waterford, an Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division rival, on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

The third-seeded Colonels beat the No. 6 Lancers 15-7 on Nov. 4.

There were little signs that Ledyard could win Thursday. The Colonels trailed 12-0 to start the fourth quarter, but Manwaring and Rainey hooked up for an 18-yard touchdown with 11:15 left to cut Fitch's lead to 12-7.

Ledyard (9-1) began the game-winning drive from its own 16 with 3:07 left, one timeout remaining, and a passing game that was sputtering.

Rainey had completed only three of his first eight passes for 20 yards as he and his receivers struggled. But he was money on the game-winning drive.

He completed 7 of 12 for 71 yards and twice he used his legs to convert on fourth-and-1.

"John's got that clutch gene," Manwaring said.

Tight end Dallas Smith had two big catches on the game-winning drive. The second he caught in double coverage while being hit and spun in the air.

"That just speaks to the kind of team we have," Manwaring said. "Guys just doing whatever it takes."

Slade Baxley caught a pass in the end zone in the closing seconds but was ruled out-of-bounds.

There were 11 seconds left when the Colonels ran their game-winning play.

"We sent Slade in motion across the formation and (Derrick) Baldoz ran with him," Buonocore said. "We were hoping to run some type of pick to get Slade open, but he got over the top.

"So then John went back to his second check, which was Manwaring running the inside post. Thomas Finney had the deep post, and that's where Manwaring became open."

It was the third time this season that Fitch (5-5) lost in the final minute.

"I've got to hand it to Ledyard," Falcons coach Mike Emery said. "They came through when they needed to."

Manwaring ran 16 times for 178 yards. He's rushed for an Eastern Connecticut Conference record 2,068 yards, besting the mark set by East Lyme's Tim Allen (2,012 yards, 2004).

Baldoz threw a 36-yard touchdown to Dashawn Frederick as Fitch scored on its first drive of the game.

A fumbled punt return gave the Falcons the ball at the Ledyard 9 late in the third quarter. Baldoz scored from a yard out to give his team a 12-0 lead.

Fitch's Saffwan Davis had 18 carries for 61 yards.

"I love these guys," Emery said. "When we were 1-3, a lot of people I'm sure thought that we wouldn't be able to win four of our last six games like we did at the end and almost win this one. I'm very proud."

n.griffen@theday.com

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