East Lyme finishes up strong, routs Waterford 54-0

East Lyme — East Lyme saw its slim hopes of making the CIAC football playoffs dashed on Thursday.

But there was so much for the Vikings to celebate this season, it barely mattered.

East Lyme, 1-9 a year ago, finished at 7-3 with a 54-0 win over Waterford in the 50th game played between the schools. And, to a man, they say that change began after a 33-20 loss to Waterford last Thanksgiving.

“Our logo was 'Change the Culture', '' said East Lyme senior running back/cornerback Tyler Valdez. “We started hitting the weight room, got every single kid in there. Just get the kids dedicated, that’s all it took.’’

Valdez, who scored two touchdowns and rushed for 55 yards on seven carries won the Palmer Sabilia Memorial MVP Award along with Waterford quarterback/safety Peter Turello, who intercepted two passes.

East Lyme lost to two 10-0 playoff teams (Killingly and Fitch) and dropped a 27-21 decision to NFA.

“We went from 1-9 to 7-3 and we gave ourselves a chance,’’ said East Lyme coach Rudy Bagos. “Realistically, we’re a few plays from maybe being undefeated.

“It was the kids buying into the program, making a commitment in the weight room,’’ said Bagos. “We had a bunch of really good leaders and we haven't had that in a long time.’’

East Lyme led 14-0 after one quarter and 28-0 at halftime. The second half, during which the Vikings didn’t attempt a pass, featured a sprinkling of junior varsity players and running time.

“I think it was a perspective change,’’ said senior running back Isaac Tomblin. “Whenever you’re a selfish person or if you play as a team of individuals it’s really easy to take plays off or not show up to practice or take shortcuts.

“But whenever you think about the impact your actions have on, not only yourself, but your teammates and how much those people matter to you makes you push a little harder.’’

Tomblin, who rushed for 51 yards on seven carries and finished the year with 1,125 yards, had a touchdown run along with teammates Dylan Hatajik, Marshall Thomas Mason and Blane Hart. Sam Highman, who was a two-year captain along with Tomblin, caught a touchdown pass from Chris Salemme, Will Flaherty returned a fumble 19 yards for a touchdown and Matt Malcom was 6-for-7 in extra-point attempts.

East Lyme’s defense limited the Lancers to 19 yards rushing and 47 passing. Blake Bragaw and T.J. Horner recovered fumbles, Hart had two interceptions and Nour Hashem blocked a punt that teammate Pat Dowd recovered at the 1-yard line.

“Football is wonderful for a lot of reasons and one of those is the fact that it parallels life so much,’’ said Tomblin. “One of the biggest lessons that anybody on our team can learn is that some things just don’t go your way. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be in the playoffs but I don’t think that it's any less of a successful season.’’

East Lyme had its first winning season since 2013, when it finished 6-5 thanks to a 34-13 win over Waterford on Thanksgiving. Waterford, which went 0-10 for the first time since 1985, still leads the series between the schools 27-23.

East Lyme, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, hopes the program continues in the right direction.

“I know the seniors don’t want this to be for nothing,’’ said Bagos.

d.davis@theday.com

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