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East Lyme - When Rudy Bagos took over as the East Lyme High School football coach, he knew what to do first.
"I challenged the seniors to turn the program around,'' Bagos said. "We set goals and the most realistic of them was to have a winning season.''
Happy Thanksgiving, coach Bagos.
The Vikings (6-5) wrapped up a winning season with a 34-13 win over Waterford (4-7) - their first since 2009.
Behind a defense that returned two fumbles for touchdowns and an efficient double-wing offense that feasted on clock, East Lyme was in control throughout.
"And the seniors pass the torch on to a strong group of juniors and sophomores,'' said Bagos.
East Lyme senior Eric Stirtan, who rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, got the ball rolling with a 44-yard return of the opening kickoff. Eight plays later, he scored on a 4-yard run for a 6-0 lead.
Then the Vikings' defense took over.
With less than a minute to go in the first quarter, East Lyme defensive back Ben Keating picked up a Waterford fumble and returned it 48 yards for a score.
Conner Parker threw to Dean Beebe for the conversion and a 14-0 lead.
Three players later - on the first play of the second quarter - it happened again. Linebacker Zane Smallidge picked up another fumble and raced 77 yards for a 19-0 lead.
"That's something we hadn't done all year, turn the ball over,'' said Waterford coach Mike Ellis. "That's giving points away, especially with that offense where they can chew up the clock.''
The cold, windy weather also helped East Lyme. The Vikings ran the ball 53 times for 259 yards and quarterback Mitch Murphy only attempted two passes.
"This was just about perfect,'' Stirtan said. "This is as good as going to the playoffs. This is the best defense we've played all year. And (Bagos) has done a phenomenal job. A lot of positive feedback. There's not any negativity.''
Stirtan had touchdown runs of 15 and 6 yards in the second half as East Lyme took 16 minutes off the clock with three drives.
"That's what the double wing does,'' Bagos said. "The defense playing like that was something we've been hoping for all year.''
Ben Watts (44 yards), Nick Pappas (25) and Hunter Waido (21) also contributed to East Lyme's ground attack.
Waterford senior quarterback Seth Hoagland threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Donny Craig in the third quarter and scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Hoagland, who was given the Palmer A. Sabilia Award as his team's most valuable player along with Stirtan, was 7-for-13 for 86 yards and teammate Bishme Sheppard rushed 12 times for 63 yards.
Waterford leads the series between the teams, 25-21, and is 22-20 since it became a Thanksgiving matchup
"They were able to execute their offense better than we were able to execute our offense,'' said Ellis.