Commander, in a new role, carries (and passes) Whalers past Colonels

Ledyard — Johnny Burns has entertained happier thoughts in his life than the image of his strong-armed quarterback, Owen George, with his arm in a sling unable to play.

And that's what Burns was faced with a few weeks ago, left to piece together the rest of New London High School's football season, perhaps without his quarterback.

But then there was this: George's injury just might allow Jacob Commander — a clear all-state candidate by now — to touch the ball more.

Commander touched it on virtually every possession Thursday night. That was good news for the Whalers, who snapped a two-game losing streak with a 25-10 win over Ledyard at Bill Mignault Field.

Commander ran for 231 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Zehki Burgis in the third period, giving the Whalers (4-3) a two-score lead.

"I love it," Commander said of his new quarterbacking duties. "I was a quarterback in youth. I like to be able to take control of the offense more."

So does Burns.

"One of the things that's helped us is the confidence we have in (junior running back Geremiah) Ballinger," Burns said. "He runs the ball well, so we can use Jacob in different ways."

New London led 12-10 in the third quarter when most members of its sideline thought the lead evaporated in one play. Ledyard's Jacob Sylvia lofted a punt near New London's goal line that was eventually muffed, but not fumbled, into the end zone.

A fumble, per National High School Federation rules, only happens when a player has clear possession of the ball. The officials ruled that a New London player touched the ball, but did not have possession, thus ruling a muff. Once the ball rolled into the end zone, the play was dead, even though a Ledyard player fell on it and thought it was a touchdown.

By rule, it's considered a kick until a team gains possession and a muff cannot be advanced by the recovering team. But because the ball went into the end zone, the play was ruled a touchback, giving the ball to the Whalers. Had the ball stayed at the 1-yard line, the Colonels would have had possession there.

"Tough play," Ledyard coach Clay Killingsworth said. "Our kids did nothing wrong. They just played hard and went for the ball."

On the next possession, Commander hit Burgis with the long touchdown pass. Commander, who ran 61 yards for a score earlier, iced the game with a 22-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.

Sylvia's 1-yard ran gave the Colonels a 7-0 lead. Ledyard, down 12-7 late in the half, climbed to 12-10 on Jaiden Bickham's 35-yard field goal.

"I'm very pleased with the way we played," Killingsworth said. "We didn't quit. We fought right to the end. We're showing signs of improvement."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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