Lancers follow Hoagland's lead
Waterford - Waterford High School began the day by stopping one losing streak and finished the day by stopping another one.
In between, East Lyme gave it all it could handle before Waterford finally secured a 29-24 Thanksgiving Day football victory - Waterford's third straight in the rivalry.
"I like how it came out,'' said Seth Hoagland, Waterford's junior quarterback. "I just kept thinking about it being the last game for the seniors and that we had to do it for them.''
And it was Hoagland who was the most responsible for the win. His interception of a Mitchell Murphy pass with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter secured the win.
The victory was the first for Waterford on its home field against East Lyme since 1993.
Before the interception, all Hoagland did was run for three touchdowns, pass for another and throw for a pair of conversions.
"When East Lyme took Bishme (Sheppard) away we had to look for another option,'' said Waterford coach Mike Ellis, "and that's where Seth came up big.''
Waterford (4-6) started off on the right foot by winning the coin toss - it had been 0-for-9 this year coming in - and Hoagland got right to work on its first possession, driving the team 32 yards for a touchdown after Kyle Willoughby recovered an East Lyme fumble. Hoagland hit Joe Gustafson for a 13-yard TD pass and Willoughby for the conversion and an 8-0 lead.
East Lyme (2-8) answered right away, with Corey Brimmer capping a 60-yard drive with an eight-yard run and Eric Stirtan running for the tying conversion.
Waterford followed with a 12-play drive that ended with Hoagland scoring from a yard out and hitting Gustafson for the conversion and a 16-8 lead early in the second quarter.
The Vikings scored the next nine points to take a 17-16 lead. First, nose tackle Matt Gillespie dropped Sheppard in the end zone for a safety. Then, Waterford fumbled away a punt and Zane Smallidge recovered for East Lyme. Two plays later Brimmer went 29 yards for a score and Adam Opsahl's extra point gave East Lyme its only lead of the day.
With 1:56 left in the first half, Hoagland drove the Lancers 65 yards on six plays. He scored on a six-yard run and Nik Lehet's point after touchdown gave the lead back to Waterford, 23-17. Hoagland ran 21 yards for a touchdown with seven minutes left in the third quarter for a 29-17 lead.
East Lyme did not go quietly.
With 5:10 left, Sam Counter blocked a Hoagland punt and Gillespie recovered on Waterford's 30. And on a fourth-and-14, Murphy found Dean Beebe for a 33-yard touchdown pass. Opsahl's kick cut the lead to 29-24 with 3:36 left.
East Lyme immediately forced Waterford to punt, getting the ball back at its own 20 with 1:17 left. Murphy completed three of his next five passes to bring the ball to Waterford's 32, but Hoagland's interception sealed the deal.
"We battled offensively and we battled defensively,'' East Lyme coach Paul Tenaglia said. "I thought we did an excellent job on Sheppard and Mattie (Gillespie) was in the backfield all day.''
Hoagland rushed 22 times for 89 yards and completed 8-of-12 passing for another 126 yards. "This is the most I've ever had to run,'' he said.
"You have to credit East Lyme,'' said Ellis. "They took Bishme out of the mix and doubled up on Willoughby. And offensively they were able to move the ball down the field. This was the best I've seen them play all year."
Sheppard did gain 54 yards on 17 carries and Willoughby caught three passes for 47 yards.
Brimmer rushed for 58 yards on 11 carries, Stirtan gained 48 on 16, Murphy was 8-for-21 with 146 yards and Mark Chmielewski (87 yards) and Beebe (89) caught four passes each.
Hoagland and Brimmer won the Palmer Sabilia Awards, as the most valuable players for each team.
East Lyme had won two of its last three coming in, after an 0-6 start.
"We had to forget about everything else,'' said Brimmer. "Everybody put their heart into this one.''
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