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Plainfield has finishing touch and stuns New London

Plainfield — Though it played from behind for virtually the entire game, it actually felt like the Plainfield High School football team was always in the lead Friday night.

The Panthers controlled the ball throughout, bent but never broke on defense, and scored 14 points in the final 2 minutes, 48 seconds — including the game-winning touchdown with 42 seconds left which was set up by a 50-yard hook-and-ladder play — to come away with a 21-17 win over New London.

"It's a big win for us because I don't know, outside of the coaches and the players, who believes in this squad," Plainfield coach Pat Smith said. "But the result was what we needed and we got it."

New London seemed to finally seize control early in the fourth quarter. The Whalers went 41 yards in just four plays (aided by a personal foul call against the Panthers), capped by a 1-yard run from quarterback Danny Maranda, for a 17-7 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Both teams traded three-and-outs before Plainfield put together a 10-play, 90-yard drive that ended with Alex Gaudreau catching a short touchdown pass, narrowing the lead to 17-15 after a successful two-point conversion.

After two short runs and a delay of game penalty, New London (2-1) faced third-and-13 when Maranda lofted a pass down the left sideline that was broken up at the last second by a leaping Cody Alday, forcing another Whalers punt and stopping the clock.

"That was an unbelievable play," Smith said. "Huge."

On the Panthers' first play with one minute left, quarterback Stephen Jankowski completed a short hook pass to Gaudreau, and as the defense closed for the tackle, Gaudreau pitched the ball to Jordan Federer, who raced down the Panthers' sideline before he was finally corralled 50 yards later at the New London 30.

"We've run that play many times," Smith said, "but if the defender is right on the receiver, he holds the ball, so it just looks like a curl route. The defender dropped off him enough just before the snap to make it work."

Jankowski's next pass fell incomplete, but with just under 50 seconds to go, he threaded the needle to Alday, who made the catch between two defenders and turned to run the short distance into the end zone for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.

"It happened so fast, but it was in slow motion ... I don't know how to explain it," Alday said. "I saw the ball and told myself like 10 times to catch it, this is what you've always dreamed of."

Said Jankowski: "I thought it was going to be picked off. The kid got me earlier in the game, and he made a great play on the ball that time, too. But Cody is that type of kid. He's got great hands and is just clutch. I had no feeling when I saw him catch it and get in the end zone. I just couldn't believe it. It was incredible."

New London had once last possession and got as deep as the Plainfield 37, but could not get any further. The Whalers had the ball for just seven-and-a-half minutes in the second half.

They took a 7-0 lead three plays into the game. Roy Starks ran for 24 yards, Maranda completed a 32-yard pass to Troy Gray and Kevin Shaw-Small ran it in from four yards out, after which Plainfield responded with a short touchdown drive of its own to tie the game. The Whalers took a 10-7 lead with 4:21 left in the first half on a 30-yard field goal by Garrett Burdick.

New London coach Duane Maranda declined comment about the game because he had to deal with an apparent altercation between New London players and some Plainfield spectators well after the game ended as the Whalers were walking off the field.

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