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New London beats Fitch to end football's 'alternative' season

New London — The players at New London High School removed their green and gold jerseys after Tuesday night's 60-42 win over Fitch, placed them in a pile on Cannamela Field, and headed to the fieldhouse to turn in the rest of their equipment.

The Eastern Connecticut Conference football season ended on Oct. 27, if one could even call it a "football season."

There will be no games on cold November nights.

There will be no late-season push for a CIAC playoff berth.

There will be no Thanksgiving Day football.

There'll be no 159th game between New London and Norwich Free Academy in the nation's oldest high school football rivalry.

All that's left for high school football teams across the state is to hit the weight room and hope there will be a real 11-on-11 tackle season starting with conditioning in late February.

"It feels, honestly, upsetting," New London senior Derick Lancaster said about the season ending so early, "but I'm happy at the same time because at least we had something this fall.

"As a senior, it's not really how I wished it would've panned out, but I'm just hoping for something this spring. ... But it was still a great experience."

Football was the lone fall sport that was canceled by the CIAC at the urging of the State Department of Health. ECC teams instead had to settle for an 'alternative' season — games that were combination of strength challenges by linemen and 7-on-7 football in which only forward passing was allowed.

The Whalers were able to play only half of their six scheduled games due to cancellations from school shutdowns caused by COVID-19. They never got to face NFA, which was only able to play its first game before the city shut down schools this month due to an increase in coronavirus cases.

"I'm not used to not having a month's more of regular-season left leading into Thanksgiving," New London head coach Johnny Burns said. "That definitely strange. I'm not sure how my family is going to process waking up Thanksgiving morning (with no football). It's just going to feel strange to get there, but you know, when you look at the alternative, the alternative was to have nothing."

Fitch was able to play five of its six scheduled games.

"That’s not bad, and that’s with us being shut down for a week, too, so we got lucky," Falcons head coach Mike Ellis said. "We were very lucky that we lasted so long into the fall before we shut down, so we really got a lot of things in. We got to work a lot of things. We got to evaluate, and so it was a good session for us. A real good session. Now we just have to hope that when February comes around we're allowed to go."

The CIAC announced late last month that football coaches were allowed to work with their student-athletes through Nov. 21 to conduct "low to moderate risk school-sponsored football activities. This may include any low to moderate risk football activities as provided by the member school or member school league."

There may not have been any tackling or running plays, but there was some football atmosphere to Tuesday's game. There were some fans in the stands (and many more hovering above at the adjacent Bates Woods Park). There was celebrating and trash-talking and a passion to win.

Junior Roderick Pratts threw three touchdown passes and sophomore Nathan Hynes threw two more for New London. Lancaster caught a team-high two touchdown passes (24, 19 yards).

"There's a lot of history behind us (and Fitch)," Lancaster said. "It feels great (to win). Definitely my best performance out of the last two years I've played varsity."

Senior co-captain Jaylen Callender (4 yards), classmate Jack Britt (11) and junior Lio Griffin-Hill (41) also caught touchdown passes for the Whalers, who also earned 24 points by winning all four linemen events. Senior Edwin Rivera also kicked four extra points.

Senior Luke Letellier threw five touchdown passes and made all five extra points for the Falcons. Classmate Noah Charron scored a game-high five times on touchdown catches of 36, 8, 13, and 13 yards along with a 45-yard pick-six. Junior Calvin Kilgore also caught a 71-yard touchdown pass and had two interceptions.

No Thanksgiving Day football means Fitch won't square off with rival Ledyard for the Colonel Ledyard Sword.

"We played Wednesday night (due to bad weather two years ago)," Ellis said. "The coaches, we always go to the Townhouse in Groton because it's the only restaurant open on Thanksgiving morning for breakfast. So even (two years ago), we still went to breakfast at 5:30 in the morning after the win Wednesday night, then we went home from there."

Ellis laughed and continued, "So we'll see what we do (this Thanksgiving). We'll see what we do."

n.griffen@theday.com

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