Lancers close in on Class M state playoff berth

Waterford — The seniors on the Waterford football team played their final home game on Friday night.

Or did they?

The 35-12 win over Ledyard in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II game brought the Lancers a step closer to a CIAC Class M playoff berth, the ECC Division II title and, just maybe, a home playoff game.

"I want to look forward to playing another game here,'' said senior quarterback Ryan Bakken. "I do not want this to be my last home game.''

Waterford (7-1, 3-0) entered the game third in the Class M points race and can wrap up the ECC Division II title on Nov. 16 at Woodstock Academy. A win there might also wrap up a playoff berth.

Waterford, which will earn a home quarterfinal playoff game with two more wins, plays at East Lyme on Thanksgiving morning.

"We preach one game at a time, but these guys aren't dumb,'' said Waterford coach John Strecker. "I mean, they know what's going on.

"We feel like we're in a single-elimination tournament every week.''

The game was closer than the final score indicates as Ledyard (1-7, 0-4) hung with Waterford most of the night. The Colonels, who lost their fifth straight, made the Lancers work for the win.

Bakken threw two touchdown passes to fellow senior Michael Vincent and ran for two more scores. But the biggest touchdown of the night came with two minutes left in the third quarter when Waterford's Jackson Harshberger picked up a Ledyard fumble and returned it 62 yards.

Sam Menders was 5-for-5 on extra points for the Lancers.

Waterford led 14-0 after one quarter on a 1-yard run by Bakken and a 15-yard TD pass to Vincent.

Ledyard quarterback Brayden Grim got the Colonels within 14-12 at halftime with a pair of second-quarter scores. He scored on a 2-yard run and hooked up with Caden Foote for an 80-yard touchdown pass with two minutes left in the half.

Bakken's 3-yard scoring run capped an eight-play drive to open the second half and gave the Lancers a 21-12 lead. Harshberger's fumble return made it 28-12 and Bakken hooked up with Vincent for a 37-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the game.

Senior lineman Jeremiah Harshberger led a strong defensive effort by Waterford.

"The defense has been playing better each week,'' said Strecker. "And I think they stepped it up again tonight.''

With the playoffs within reach, the Lancers know what they have to do.

"I know we've got to take it one week at a time,'' said Bakken. "We've still got two more games to go and we can get back here. So we've got to focus on that.''

d.davis@theday.com

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