The Lonesome Polecat (SE Conn variant)
Try, if you dare, to process all the athletic doom that the Valley Regional/Old Lyme co-op faced last Thursday against Rockville.
There were 59.4 seconds left in the game, the Warriors trailed by a point and were buried deep in a fourth-and-22. Adding to their problems, starting quarterback Ryan Santos had been knocked out of the game, sophomore backup Jack Cox was under siege, and a loss would likely stake their CIAC Class S playoff chances.
All of that calamity set up one of the wilder finishes in Valley/Old Lyme’s recent history.
Cox threw a split-second before he was hit from behind, and Jae’len Arnum, running a wheel route, made a leaping 25-yard catch at the Rams’ 1-yard line.
Arnum ran for the go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds left to give the Warriors a 33-28 win.
“It was an incredible comeback and an unbelievable finish,” Valley/Old Lyme head coach Tim King said. “It was one of those games that you’re never going to forget.
“We could not have started out slower than we did and come out as flat as we did. I thought we started out flat against Cromwell/Portland (a 21-14 overtime loss on Oct. 26), but it was embarrassing against Rockville. But the kids never quit. … It saved our playoff season.”
The Warriors (6-1) are seventh in the Class S rankings with two games left. The top eight teams qualify in each of the CIAC’s four playoff divisions.
Santos had been playing through an ankle injury he suffered in Week 2 against Morgan (a 21-6 win, Sept. 14). He took a beating against Cromwell/Portland, and aggravated the injury in the first quarter against Rockville and went to the sideline.
Enter Cox. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
Jason O’Brien had nine catches for 123 yards and caught three touchdown passes for the Warriors. Arnum had five catches for 115 yards.
Monty Thomas ran for a 3-yard touchdown with two minutes, 24 seconds left to give the Rams a 28-27 lead.
It was enough time for Valley/Old Lyme to save its season.
“(Cox) was getting tackled and threw up the ball,” King said about the fourth-and-22 play. “Jalen made an unbelievable catch and tried rolling in (the end zone). The clock was running, so we quickly ran up and ran counter with Jalen at QB. He got hit about the 3, and somehow, someway, he got into the end zone.
“We tried for a two-point conversion and didn’t get it. … Then Colbe Andrews picked off pass with nine seconds left. It was just a great game. … They hung in.”
• • • •
The Long range forecasts call for rain — perhaps heavy rain — by game time Friday night for the Eastern Connecticut Conference game of the year: Norwich Free Academy at Killingly.
That may not be the best news for the Wildcats, whose offense has become a modified version of Paul Revere.
One if by land … but six if by air.
“Watching our spread offense execute is a beautiful thing,” NFA coach Jason Bakoulis said. “I’m an old defensive coordinator. I joke with our defensive coaches in practice that I’m glad I don’t have to prepare for them.”
NFA quarterback Elijah Parker threw for 247 yards two weeks ago against Fitch, and for nearly 200 in the first half alone during last Thursday’s 55-21 win over Waterford.
Parker has a number of targets: Nolan Molkenthin, Kevin Pomroy, Jahiem Spruill and Damien Bleau, among others. It will challenge Killingly’s defense, which allowed 260 passing yards to New London in late September, the Redmen’s lone loss.
NFA probably cannot derail Killingly’s playoff hopes in Class M. The Redmen are fourth and could probably survive a loss and still qualify, given the high number of existing two-loss teams already. But the Wildcats can deny Killingly a home game.
“It’ll be another chance to be tested at the state level,” Bakoulis said, alluding to previous games against Xavier, Fairfield Prep, Newtown and Windsor.
• • • •
The most troubling opponent for Montville this season has been the numbers game.
Montville High School has seen its enrollment decline over the years. It had 408 boys in 2009. It has 291 this season, ranking 127th out of 183 CIAC schools.
Griswold is the only ECC football program with fewer boys than Montville’s.
“The kids are in pretty good spirits,” Montville head coach Tanner Grove said. “We are who we are. We’re a 3-5 football team right now, and we’ve had a few football games get away from us that we believe we had every opportunity to win and didn’t. We have to live with that.
“The numbers piece for us is very difficult. The slow enrollment has plummeted in 13 years. We’ve gone from a school with 850 students to (612). Our numbers are obviously taking a hit there. We have about 30 kids grades 10-12. We have 10 seniors and eight of them play, then we have another 16 juniors and a handful of them play. We’re not necessarily young, but thin.”
Marcus Velez scored on a 10-yard touchdown catch, an 81-yard kickoff return, and a 64-yard punt return in Montville’s win over CREC. Ryan Douchette also threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Emmanual Mayfield and a 5-yard pass to Nehemiah Owens, and scored on an 18-yard run.
Mayfield later scored on a 5-yard run and made 5 of 8 extra points.
“The thing I’ve been really happy with this year is the resiliency of the kids,” Grove said. “Week 2, we go down to play an SCC team (Lyman Hall) and took it on the chin (41-0, Sept. 14), but they didn’t let it define the season.
“We played an FCIAC team (Fairfield Ludlowe on Oct. 19) with a million kids, but they didn’t let it get them down. Even though they knew we’d be overmatched, they didn’t get down.”
Ludlowe won, 47-12. The Falcons (6-2) are ranked 11th in the Class LL playoff ratings and have 736 boys.
“If we bring all 16 of these (juniors) back and play a lot of seniors next year, that bodes well for most football teams,” Grove said.
• • • •
New London is 4-3 and not a great team. But the Whalers sure have a player making a case to join the lineage conversation.
Jacob Commander: running back, linebacker and now quarterback.
Commander is pinch hitting for injured starter Owen George as the Whalers run the Wildcat. Now Commander has the ball on every possession, maybe making New London’s offense even more dangerous.
“He’s just a gifted player,” New London coach Johnny Burns said of Commander, a senior, who is perhaps defined by his size (low to the ground) more than his heart. That should stop immediately.
Commander isn’t just running the ball. He threw a long touchdown pass to Zehki Burgis during last Thursday’s 25-10 win over Ledyard that was a perfect spiral dropped perfectly into Burgis’ hands.
“The quarterback thing is fun,” Commander said with a grin.
• • • •
Thanks to Mike Dabo DiMauro (New London-Ledyard, and NFA-Waterford) for his contributions to this here blog.
• • • •
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.
Please check out the state variant of the Lonesome Polecat blog, which shall be posted either Monday night or Tuesday morning, depending on the speed in which we can math and figure out BRACKETOLOGY~!
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And this is the story of Dom Griffin, a former Whaler, class of 2008, who used rock bottom as a means not merely to rid himself of the figurative shovel, but to parlay his second chance into a happy life.