Early troubles end New London football's playoff hopes
Middletown — Johnny Burns didn’t see trouble coming for his New London football team at practice the day before Wednesday night’s game at Middletown.
Burns couldn’t have dreamt up a worse start than what gutted the Whalers, either.
New London had its first three punt attempts go awry, helping the Blue Dragons take a 20-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
It was more help than Middletown needed as it cruised to a 37-12 non-conference win at Skubel-Rosek Stadium.
The loss quashed any chance New London (5-4) had at a CIAC Class L playoff berth.
The Whalers' season ends next week when they host Norwich Free Academy on Thanksgiving (10 a.m.) in the 157th game of the nation’s longest high school football rivalry.
“Anything that could wrong, it did,” Burns said. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way tonight.”
The Blue Dragons (9-0) unofficially clinched a Class L quarterfinal berth. The playoff seeding isn’t official until the CIAC’s football committee approves it the day after the end of the regular season.
Middletown’s Kyle Despres (two interceptions) fielded a squib kick on the opening kickoff and returned it 19 yards to the Whalers’ 41-yard line.
Dajuan Lomotey ran for a touchdown on the next play. Matthew Aresco’s extra point gave the Blue Dragons a 7-0 lead.
The game was only 19 seconds old.
New London went three-and-out on its first drive and had its punt blocked by Tyron Scharborough. Teammate Anthony Pappa recovered the ball at the Whalers’ 4.
Tyreece Lumpkin’s 5-yard touchdown run pushed Middletown’s lead to 13-0 with 8:06 left in the quarter.
The Whalers caught a bit of a break as their next punt was blocked, but was touched by a Blue Dragon. Keeano Gonzalez recovered the ball for New London at its own 29 for a fresh set of downs.
The Whalers went three-and-out again. The snap on their punt went awry and Middletown took over at their 6.
Jonta’e Dempsey threw a touchdown pass to Lumpkin on the next play.
The Blue Dragons had run just five offensive plays and led, 20-0, with 4:22 left in the half.
“Yesterday, we were going through our transitions, including special teams, and things seemed up to par,” Burns said. “There was confusion that we didn’t have 24 hours ago. Why? I don’t know. As a coaching staff, we look at things. Maybe we need to rep more often.”
Lomotey ran seven times for 70 yards and two touchdowns and Lumpkin had four catches for 58 yards. Aresco also kicked a 32-yard field goal.
Jacob Commander ran 16 times for 100 yards and a touchdown for the Whalers. Zehki Burgis had five catches for 86 yards and threw a 23-yard pass.
New London’s Thomas Manuel threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Nazell Hodges on the game’s final play.
“This was unfortunate because we played a team that is elite,” Burns said. “It would’ve been nice for us to compete without having helped them as much. No matter what the outcome would’ve been, even if it was the same, it would’ve been nice to not have that happen.
“We just looked up and ‘bam!’”
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