Waterford gets back to winning ways with 14-13 win over Ledyard

Ledyard — The football players of Waterford High School look around their league and see other kids celebrating victory. They look inside their own school and see other kids celebrating victory. But them? They just get to lament all the wouldas, shouldas and couldas for the last 653 days, wondering when they'd get the chance to celebrate, too.

And so it was Saturday at Bill Mignault Field, the Lancers leading most of the second half, when — big surprise here — losing suddenly became an option. A botched punt gave Ledyard a chance to tie the game. Eight plays later, there was Jaiden Bickham waltzing in for a touchdown, pulling the Colonels within a point, undoubtedly generating a chorus of here-we-go-agains from the 06385.

Ah, but this time, the effort coach John Strecker spoke of later would conspire with some luck. The Colonels missed the extra point. And then senior Marcus Lovell, with a second-and-third effort run on third down, helped the Lancers run out the clock and celebrate, finally.

Waterford 14, Ledyard 13.

"This is (really) awesome," senior Marquis Smith, who probably played his best game as a Lancer, was saying later. "We haven't won a game in a whole year. I can't even talk right now. Let's keep this up."

Waterford, since beating East Lyme on Nov. 24, 2016, went 0-10 last year. Now? The Lancers have won one in a row.

"It's been incredibly hard," Strecker said. "Because these kids play hard. But they come in sometimes and they're just deflated. We talk about Lancer Pride. That's self-respect. If we can stand in the huddle after the game and everybody's proud of what everybody else did, we won, no matter what the scoreboard says. They're really buying in. They went 0-10 last year and never stopped playing."

Bickham's touchdown came with 2:15 remaining. Ledyard had no more timeouts and didn't recover an onside kick, leaving the Lancers a first down away from nirvana. Lovell delivered behind an offensive line that, per Strecker, is no longer offensive.

"When Marcus got the first down, I'm thinking that unless we do something really stupid, we win the game," Strecker said. "The offensive line was a weakness last year. It's a strength this year. (Assistant coach) Timmy Lineburgh's done a great job."

Quarterback Ryan Bakken hit Dan Annibalini for 37 yards early in the second half to set up Marcus Elliott's four-yard touchdown run that gave Waterford a 14-7 lead. The Lancers preserved the lead with some stout defense, highlighted by some highlight reel hits from Smith and Quincy Foren, breaking up third down passes.

Waterford, which missed two scoring opportunities early, finally took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on sophomore Jackson Harshberger's 4-yard run.

"The good news is that we made a bunch of mistakes today and won anyway," Strecker said. "That's great. The bad news is that we made a bunch of mistakes today."

Ledyard tied the game in the second period when quarterback Jacob Sylvia threw a 33-yard strike to Cade Walters, tying it by halftime.

"The kids' energy was good today," Ledyard coach Clay Killingsworth said. "But I made plenty of mistakes today. That was the issue. My own mistakes."

Bakken threw for 110 yards, while Ledyard's James Smith led his team with 72 rushing yards on 24 carries.

m.dimauro@theday.com

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