The Lonesome Polecat (SE Connecticut variant): It's Fitch-East Lyme in key late-season matchup
The East Lyme and Fitch football teams have been kindred dispirits the past three seasons.
The Falcons and Vikings both lost a lot of games over that time while rivals Ledyard, New London and Norwich Free Academy all enjoyed success, division titles and/or trips to the state playoffs.
Now, it’s East Lyme and Fitch’s time.
The Falcons play at East Lyme at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a lot on the line. Fitch would clinch the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I title with a win. The Vikings will earn a share if the prevail.
The game will also shake up the CIAC Class L playoff race. Fitch (7-0, 2-0) is ranked fifth overall, East Lyme (5-2, 2-1) is 10th. The top eight teams qualify.
“These seniors didn’t win any games as freshmen,” Falcons coach Mike Ellis said. “They won five as sophomores and four as juniors. The fact that they stuck together when others left — they didn’t go, ‘oh, I’m not sticking around’ — speaks highly of them and speaks to why you stick it out through tough times. Sometimes it works out.”
East Lyme coach Rudy Bagos said, “It’s funny — this summer I saw Mike Ellis. We were talking and said that we finally get to play later on in the season instead of the third or fourth game, and that maybe it would be something. Here we are, playing for a title.”
Fitch went 9-22 the last three years, including losing all 11 games in 2014.
The Falcons are off to the program’s best start since they played for the 2001 Class L title. They’ve already beaten division rivals NFA (46-13) and New London (33-20).
“What’s interesting is we sat down with all the seniors in March of this past year and went through what their goals were. What do you want to achieve? Their three goals were, one, they wanted to beat Notre Dame of West Haven because they wanted to beat a team that’s well-respected around the state. Goal number two was a winning record. Goal number three was to win the ECC Division I title.”
Fitch beat Notre Dame (27-20, Sept. 15) and has already assured itself a winning season.
“Now on their mind is goal number three,” Ellis said.
East Lyme finished 4-7 and 3-7, respectively, in 2014 and 2015. It was 1-9 last season.
“I think it is starting to hit the kids now,” Bagos said about the chance to win Division I. “In years past, our big game was Thanksgiving Day against Waterford. Here we are, eight weeks into the season, and we actually have a chance to play for an ECC title.
“There’s been a bit of a ‘wow’ factor. … I think that wow factor kind of got to us with NFA (a 27-21 loss on Oct. 27). I’m glad we got through it. NFA always brings out the best in us. They’re always a good team. The crowd was unbelievable. It was packed. There was a lot riding on the game in terms of the ECC and states, and it was homecoming weekend. We had everything going on. It’s just unfortunate we came up short.”
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It has not been an easy season at New London, a program accustomed to annually contending for the state playoffs That’s why there was as much joy as relief after Friday’s 46-21 win over Montville.
Still, coach Juan Roman remained plenty philosophical, not to mention compassionate about the other team’s plight.
“Winning is better than losing, but we’re 2-6 and not going to the playoffs. So I don’t want to make this any bigger than it is,” Roman said. “I hope Tanner (Montville coach Tanner Grove) knows that his newborn daughter is the most important thing right now. This is just football.”
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It’s been a rough season for Stonington. It’s 2-5 and dealing with numerous injuries.
The Bears can still win a division title, however. They’re 2-0 in the ECC’s Division II and capture the four-team division with a home win over Bacon Academy on Thursday night (6:30).
The chance to hang a banner hasn’t resonated with Stonington, though.
“It’s not something we’ve talked about,” Bears coach A.J. Massengale said after Friday’s 42-14 loss to Griswold. “We have a lot to improve upon. We’re a better football team than this, I know that.”
Bacon (4-4, 1-1) is the only team in the division without a losing record. The Bobcats, Stonington and Waterford shared the Division II last season.
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Grove and his Indians looked primed for a long night on Friday, trailing 20-0 early. But Montville rallied, thanks to big plays from Nik Angell and Emmanuel Mayfield, to take a 21-20 lead. The Indians were a play away from taking the lead to halftime.
“I’m really proud of the way our guys battled,” Grove said. “That’s still New London. I know they’d lost six games. But their losses aren’t our losses. They’ve lost to some really good teams. I look at them and I don’t know how they lost six games. Bottom line for us, we dressed 27 kids.”
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Montville senior Greg Clark made one of the game’s smartest plays during Friday’s game. On the second-to-last play of the first half (with roughly 10 seconds remaining), Clark, looking as though he was beaten on the play, intentionally committed pass interference in the end zone. The penalty, half the distance to the goal, prevented a touchdown and moved New London only a few yards closer with one play left in the half. The Whalers managed to score on Jacob Commander’s touchdown run, but Clark’s play at least gave his team a chance to survive. His coaches told him as much walking off the field.
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For YOUR planning purposes, the rest of the Week 10 schedule: Waterford (0-7, 0-2) at Montville (3-5, 1-1), Thursday, 6:30 p.m.; Ledyard (2-6, 0-2 ECC D-I) at New London (2-6, 0-2), Friday, 6:30 p.m.; Prince Tech (6-1, 5-1 Connecticut Technical Conference) at Thames River (4-3, 4-3), Saturday, 10 a.m.; Valley Regional/Old Lyme (7-1) at Lewis Mills (1-7), Saturday, 1 p.m.
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Thanks to Michael DiMauro (Montville-New London) for his contributions to this here blog.
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Thanks for reading. More soon.
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