The Lonesome Polecat: New London shows its multi-dimensional attack
It would have been difficult for New London High School coach Johnny Burns to hear the coaching advice he was receiving Friday night from all the coaches on The Hill, the familiar perch at Bates Woods at which many fans gather to watch the Whalers.
But in the first quarter, they strongly suggested the Whalers start throwing the ball.
Their coach obliged quickly.
New London’s 25-24 thrilling win over Killingly featured a number of positives for the upstart Whalers, not the least of which was a passing game that illustrated a potentially scary offense.
Quarterback Owen George threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, completing 15 passes to five different receivers: Richard Henry (25-yard TD pass), Nazell Hodges, Frankie Pratts (game-winning 45-yard TD pass), Zehki Burgis (81-yard TD pass) and Jaylen Callender.
George, under siege most of the first half, got better blocking in the second half, too, leaving him more time to throw.
“We knew we could throw,” George said, “and it was fun to do it.”
New London senior Jacob Commander, perhaps the Eastern Connecticut Conference's best running back, ran for 196 yards and a touchdown. The Whalers suddenly have a passing game with several targets and a running back hard to tackle.
New London rallied from a 24-13 deficit in the final seven minutes, snapping Killingly’s 15-game win streak.
“This comeback blew my mind,” Commander said.
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Mackenzie Bagos, the six-year-old daughter of East Lyme head coach Rudy Bagos, rushed over to see her dad shortly after Friday’s 40-15 win over Windham.
Rudy lifted Mackenzie up and, as he talked to a reporter, she sweetly said to him, “I can’t believe you won.”
From the mouths of babes.
The Vikings (1-2) won their first game of the season thanks to their defense. The offense couldn’t sustain a drive longer than seven plays in the first half. They had a 14-7 halftime lead because the offensive line gave Blane Hart enough room on outside zone plays to score on runs of 36 and 62 yards on his first and second carries of the game.
Windham, meanwhile, kept grinding out drives on the ground with Nate Barbosa Torres and Issiah English. Barbosa Torres ran 33 times for 225 yards and a touchdown. English had 13 carries for 132 yards and a score.
The Whippets had more rushing yardage (397, on 61 carries) than East Lyme had in total offense (280).
The Vikings D kept coming up with stops, though. Windham had a third-and-1 at the East Lyme 12 late in the first half when Cameron Hart stopped Barbosa Torres for a 1-yard loss.
Michael Haburay and Liam Whaley got to Barbosa Torres first on fourth-and-2 and held him to a yard to force a turnover on downs.
“Our defense was bend but don’t break,” Bagos said. “(Windham) got crazy yards on us, but I give props to (defensive coordinator) Ben Donatello and the defense. They came up with big stops when we needed it and kept us in the game.”
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Fitch running back Hamear Stephens has a little different role in his senior season. He’s gone from more of a tailback the last two seasons to a fullback at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds.
“I talked to coach (Jordan) Panucci and he said I had the body for it,’’ said Stephens. “At first I didn’t think about playing fullback because I didn’t know how to play it. But then we got in practice and I started getting the hang of it and I kind of liked it.’’
Stephens rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries in Fitch’s 34-6 win over Waterford.
There were eight turnovers in the game, four for each team. Waterford’s Sam Menders recovered a fumble and had an interception and teammates Hunter Halford (fumble) and Chris Silva (interception) also got in on the action.
Kennard Tate, Steve Cantres and Daniel Mojica had interceptions for Fitch and teammate Daniel Brathwaite recovered a fumble.
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One night as a freshman, James Smith ran back the opening kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown in a 49-13 victory over Montville, just Smith's sixth career game. Now Smith is a senior.
"As a coach, I'm moving him all over," Ledyard coach Clay Killingsworth said Friday night after the Colonels' 22-20 win over Stonington. "Running back, receiver, sometimes I flip him and put him in the inside receiver spot, sometimes I flip him to the outside. Defense (Smith is a defensive back).
"He's got a lot of varsity experience. He knows all the plays. He's been in big games."
Smith had six carries for 75 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and caught four passes for 31 yards.
"My wide receiver Jaiden Bickham and my tackle Dan Peterson blocked for me," Smith said. "The speed is just God-given."
Smith was second in the Class M state championship this spring in the 100 meters.
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Nick Helbig does it all for Fitch. The senior captain plays nose guard and offensive guard and only comes off the field on kickoffs. In Friday’s 34-6 win over Waterford, the 6-foot-2, 240 pounder had a few highlight-reel hits on defense and anchored an offensive line that paved the way for 441 yards rushing.
“When you have a guy like that you don’t take him off the field,’’ said Fitch coach Mike Ellis Jr. “He’s been playing like this all year. Every team has had trouble holding him up. And (Waterford) couldn’t run their counter tonight because he would just come through and tackle the guy.’’
Helbig is having a blast.
“I love football, man,’’ said Helbig. “Defense is what I like and that’s what I want to play in college if I’m able to play in college.’’
Playing isn’t just reserved for football either. He plays tenor saxophone in the decorated Fitch marching band.
“We were supposed to play a show at halftime but then at the last minute we decided not to,’’ said Helbig. “It’s not where we want it to be at. We have standards for ourselves. If we did, I was going to play.’’
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Ledyard had a fourth-and-five from its own 35-yard-line in the first quarter and chose to go for it rather than punt. The Colonels came up a few yards short and turned the ball over to Stonington on downs, at which point Stonington scored a touchdown on a 6-yard run by Riley Burnside, tying the score 7-7.
Killingsworth explained: "The wind was blowing right in our face. The way (punter/quarterback) Jacob Sylvia kicks it right up in the air, I was afraid to have him punt it. We were kicking right into the wind."
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Ledyard lost its season-opener to Waterford 14-13 on Sept. 8.
“They had to just keep going,” Killingsworth said of the mood following the loss. “Instead of getting down on themselves, we showed them on film, 'Here's 20 plays that could have changed the game.' That allowed them to see that when we put it all together, we're a pretty good football team.”
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Burnside rushed 20 times for 71 yards and a touchdown for Stonington in its loss to Ledyard. Josh Curtin had 15 carries for 47 yards, caught two passes for 31 yards and had a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown, which gave the Bears a 20-16 lead at halftime.
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Thanks to David Davidson Davis (Fitch v. Waterford), Vickie Fulkerson (Ledyard-Stonington), and new quinquagenarian Mike DiMauro (New London-Killingly) for their contributions to this here blog.
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That's all for now. Thanks for reading.
We encourage you to check out the state variant of the Lonesome Polecat online. It shall be unleashed either late Monday or early Tuesday.
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