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East Lyme overcomes mistakes, responds with win over New London

East Lyme — Mistakes happen.

East Lyme High School coach Rudy Bagos knows that.

How his Vikings respond to their mistakes is what he focuses on.

"It's one of the things that we harp on," Bagos said. "Sometimes they dwell on mistakes and it kind of ruins them for the whole game. ... We've just got to move on and go from there."

East Lyme overcame a damaging turnover and penalties, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat undermanned New London 33-20 in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I football matchup Friday.

The series after fumbling away the football at the New London 1-yard line, the Vikings bounced back and marched 62 yards for the go-ahead score. Quarterback Chris Salemme connected with senior Dalton Franco on a 5-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-20 with just over five minutes remaining.

The Vikings (3-4, 1-1) added another late score on Andrew Haase's 2-yard run to seal the win. It was his second touchdown of the game. Junior Blane Hart also had two rushing touchdowns, finding the end zone from 1 and 2 yards.

"I love it," Bagos said of his team's response from mistakes. "It just shows these kids are growing as a team and as players. That's all you can ask for as a coach."

The Vikings appeared to be in command, holding a 20-6 halftime lead. But the Whalers (3-3, 1-1) fought back behind a tenacious defense and special teams play. They scored 14 third-quarter points to tie the game.

A short punt set up the Whalers on the East Lyme 32. Jacob Commander broke tackles and bounced off defenders on his way to an impressive 26-yard touchdown run.

On the next East Lyme drive, the Whalers forced a punt. They swarmed punter JoJo Higgins, who did his best to scoop up a low snap before being tackled at his own 24.

A pass interference penalty aided New London's drive. Jaylen Callender broke free for an 8-yard touchdown run and Commander hit Shane Brooks for a two-point conversion pass to tie the game.

But the Vikings eventually regrouped.

Salemme converted some big plays on the go-ahead scoring drive. He threw a 24-yard pass to Franco on third-and-10 and his quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 from the 5 kept possession.

The Vikings walked off the field with their first two-game winning streak this season.

"We're better than 3-4," Salemme said. "We're excited, we're hungry and we're going to run the table."

The Whalers are dealing with their own share of adversity.

They were coming off a bye week and playing for the first time since being involved in a postgame fight with Hillhouse in a loss on Oct. 12.

They played without injured quarterback Owen George. Commander saw the bulk of the action at quarterback with Frankie Pratts seeing spot duty.

"Obviously, Owen is a player who is easy to miss," New London coach Johnny Burns said. "But we missed a bunch of guys. So I just think the guys that played, they represented the Whalers really well.

Burns declined to say how many players didn't play and why.

"It's a multitude of reasons," Burns said. "It's just making sure we set the tone for the rest of the season. I would say program reasons. ... We missed the guys that we missed. At the end of the day, it was about who was here and they played their hearts out. ... They fought hard."

g.keefe@theday.com

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