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Waterford rallies for 35-34 OT win over East Lyme, clinches Class M home game

East Lyme — There they were at midfield, about to discuss the rules of overtime early Thursday afternoon. That's when Waterford High School coach John Strecker, the man who has rebuilt an entire program, captured the moment perfectly:

"I told Rudy (East Lyme coach Rudy Bagos) we should throw everybody out of here and make them come in and pay again to see the finish," Strecker said.

Yes, the game was that entertaining.

Sam Menders, a Waterford senior, not only caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in overtime, but converted the biggest kick — an extra point — in program lore and legend, sending the Lancers not only to a 35-34 victory over their blood rivals, but to a Class M playoff quarterfinal home game Tuesday night against Granby/Canton at 6:30 p.m.

From 0-10 two years ago to 3-7 last year ... to utter euphoria Thursday afternoon.

Waterford (9-1) rallied from a 28-20 deficit to force overtime and even survived Owen Robbins' touchdown catch in overtime that gave East Lyme the lead. That's when Matt Sanford blocked the extra point that gave his team a path.

"Getting it to overtime was amazing," Strecker said. "Once we were there we felt pretty good. All year long, these guys play one play at a time. They don't let stuff bother them."

Menders caught a touchdown pass with 1:08 left to move Waterford within two at 28-26. Quarterback Ryan Bakken ran home the two-point conversion to tie the game.

It was Menders again in overtime, catching Bakken's fourth touchdown throw of the game (Bakken has 32 this season) before calming down in time to kick the extra point.

"I knew what I had to do. I put the miss behind me. You can't think about that stuff," Menders said, alluding to a missed kick earlier in the game. "This feels amazing. Nothing like I've ever felt. All the guys there with me, working our (butts) off the last few years just to get to this point. Amazing."

Michael Vincent caught two long touchdown passes from Bakken earlier in the game, helping Bakken eclipse 1,800 passing yards this season. The Lancers led 20-14 in the third quarter when a botched snap on a punt gave East Lyme (5-5) favorable field position. Quarterback Noah Perry hit Robbins with a touchdown pass that gave the Vikes a 21-20 lead.

East Lyme led 28-20 with seven minutes left before Waterford's rally. Waterford leads the series between the schools, 28-24.

"Our guys laid it all on the line," Bagos said. "Both teams played great. When they blocked the extra point (in overtime) something just didn't feel right."

Waterford moved the ball on the ground better than it had all season, thanks to the push of its offensive line in front of Jackson Harshberger, Christian Hightower and Luke Sokolski.

And now the school more famous for baseball and basketball gets to play a football home game in the playoffs.

"Tremendous," Strecker said. "Before the game, the Sports Doctor (The Day's Keith O'Brien) asked me what my most memorable Thanksgiving football memory was. This has got to be the one now. This is unbelievable.

"We were 0-10 two years ago and 3-7 last year. These guys here were on the field getting beat up as sophomores and juniors. They made a commitment. They started talking on August 19 (the first day of practice) saying they wanted to host a home game in the playoffs."

Their wish comes true Tuesday.



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