Whalers stun No. 3 Middletown on game-ending FG

New London's Jelani Lucas is dragged down from behind by Middletown's Dario Highsmith just shy of the end zone late in the fourth quarter of the Whalers' 23-21 upset over the previously unbeaten Blue Dragons. Lucas' catch set up a game-winning 22-yard field goal by freshman Garrett Burdick on the final play of the game.
New London's Jelani Lucas is dragged down from behind by Middletown's Dario Highsmith just shy of the end zone late in the fourth quarter of the Whalers' 23-21 upset over the previously unbeaten Blue Dragons. Lucas' catch set up a game-winning 22-yard field goal by freshman Garrett Burdick on the final play of the game. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

New London — And when it was over, Garrett Burdick, the kid kicker, cried.

Duane Maranda, the coach who believes, cried.

Assistant coach Tommie Major, in that volcanic Tommie Major voice, kept yelling, "how bout them Whalers!" to anyone who'd listen.

How bout 'em, indeed.

New London 23, third-ranked Middletown 21. One of the enduring games, even in the estimable lore and legend of Cannamela Field.

And it ended on the last play Friday night when Burdick, New London High School's freshman kicker, made a 22-yard field goal as time expired, touching off delirium in the stands and on the sidelines.

The Whalers (6-2) didn't merely upset the state's No. 3 team, they overcame deficits of 14-0 and 21-7 in the process.

"To come where we've come from," Maranda said, alluding to his team's 1-2 start and fighting back tears after the game, "I think has made us stronger."

The game was a microcosm of the season. Not so great at the beginning. Pretty darn terrific right now.

The game-winning drive began on defense, a stout defense it turned out, that held Middletown's offense to seven points in the final three periods.

The Blue Dragons (8-1) had a third and two near midfield with four minutes remaining. Middletown quarterback Dario Highsmith, who already had eclipsed 100 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns, barely made the line of scrimmage, inhaled by New London defensive end Hunter Roman.

Following a Middletown punt, New London quarterback Danny Maranda hit Jelani Lucas with completions of 29 and 33 yards. The 33-yarder came after Middletown's Jordan Baker and Taqi Bilal collided, leaving Lucas the smallest window.

"Honestly," Lucas said, "I have no idea how I caught that."

The Whalers moved inside the 10 and ran the clock to 2.2 seconds remaining.

And here came Burdick, not long after his extra point bid to tie the game had been blocked. Freshman kicker. Freshman holder, too, Melquann Gomez.

"Everyone was saying 'erase it and move on to the next one, the next one is the one,'" Burdick said. "I guess they knew it."

Burdick's kick came from the left hash with Middletown defenders looming from both ends.

"I was very nervous. I really was just so scared," Burdick said. "Only being a freshman, I didn't really know what I was doing out there. I'm proud of myself that I made it."

Duane Maranda felt the passions of a season — and parts of his life — share the path of the ball through the uprights.

"I saw Dick Beams, I wish he was here for this," Maranda said of his late mentor and former assistant coach. "The adversity. What the outsiders say. But most of all, it was seeing Jose Garcia, Niko Ramos, Orrin Parke, Dante Alston, Ahshon Harkness, all the seniors that have had a tough road and haven't been able to experience wins like this on this field."

Danny Maranda hit Garcia with a 17-yard touchdown pass to cut into Middletown's early 14-0 lead and Ramos ran 61 yards for a score in the third period, taking a direct snap.

"I don't think I'll ever forget this night," Duane Maranda said, hugging various family members on the field after the game. "I'm so proud of our kids."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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