Waterford — At no point during the week's preparation did Tanner Grove honestly think this game, the one that would allow Montville High School to play for a banner next Friday, would become an opportunity to coach up his junior varsity much of the night.
But that's what happens when your team plays a virtually flawless first half. The Indians scored the game's first 40 points and earned a 54-20 win over Waterford, giving them the chance to play for the Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division championship next week.
Grove's starters sat the entire second half.
"We've had past teams here when the kids knew it was coming," Grove said. "It was, 'Is Tyler (former program great Tyler Girard-Floyd) done and is it time for us to play yet?' But this group, we haven't done this to teams until recently. It's a bit of a cluster getting our young guys to mesh with our starters. But I didn't want them to lose sight of how proud I was of them in the first half."
Sophomore Jeremiah Crowley ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Nick Clemons ran for 55 yards and passed for 159 yards. Sophomore Buddy Dewaine, who had 111 yards receiving, caught a 24-yard scoring pass early in the game.
It was after Dewaine's catch that Waterford coach Mike Ellis gathered his entire team and delivered a state-of-the-Lancers address that was as direct as it was explosive. Ellis kept his team in the locker room for nearly 30 minutes after the game ended.
Grove, meanwhile, watched the Lancers score 13 quick points in the third period against his reserves. Quarterback Seth Hoagland scored on runs of 7 and 35 yards. Still, Grove, mindful of the state's 50-point rule and the need to develop his young players, kept his starters next to him.
"I can't say it was score only. We're not an extremely deep team," he said. "We dress about 40. So when we get an opportunity to rest players who are really important to what we're doing, we'll err on the side of caution and civility."
Grove was rewarded when running back/linebacker Izak Tibbetts ran back a fumble for a 16-yard touchdown and backup quarterback Tyler Quidgeon hit Chance Collier with a 16-yard touchdown pass.
"Overall, I was surprised at how efficient we were early," Grove said. "Everything we dialed up, with the exception of one extra point, was well done. Waterford is a good group, just a little down with some injuries right now. We played really, really well."
Waterford (2-4, 1-2) was missing several starters and lost another, cornerback Deion Pittman, early in the game.
The Indians (5-1, 3-0) play one of the biggest games in the Grove era at home next week.
"It'll be fun," he said. "We have two good teams playing for something. They are very well coached and have upper class guys who have been through the battles. They've been finding their way early, much like us. That's why we do this, to have some fun."