December 30, 2013 02:41PM
By LARRY KELLEY
Sun Staff Writer
STONINGTON — Despite producing one of the most prolific seasons in Stonington High football team history, senior standout running back Zach Poirier is the anti- “Big Man on Campus.”
Aside from the fact he stands 5-foot-5, Poirier keeps a low profile in general. You didn’t see any touchdown dances or chest-pounding after his 1,381 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. During post-game interviews, Poirier was quick to credit his teammates for his production rather than pontificate about his individual accomplishments.
Poirier let his actions speak during the Bears’ 8-3 season and ECC Medium Division championship campaign. With speed, quickness, cutting ability and power, Poirier was the leading single-season rusher in the Double Wing offense during Massengale’s 10-year coaching regime.
“His work ethic is unrivaled and his competitiveness, along with humility, make for a very unique person” Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. “There are not many high school athletes walking around that have had the high level of success that Zach has, but you would never know of Zach’s achievements as he is humble in every way and that is what is so admirable about him.”
The achievements, though, did not go unnoticed during postseason all-star selections. Poirier made the Class M All-State team as one of three running backs selected on the 14-player offensive squad.
He also was one of six Bears selected to the ECC-Medium first team along with senior offensive linemen Ryan Francis and Brad Turner, junior linebacker Jack Riordan, senior defensive lineman C.J. Dipollino and senior defensive lineman-running back Harry Calmar.
Poirier averaged 8.4 yards per rush and also added two touchdown receptions, two kickoff touchdown returns and two interceptions while playing cornerback on defense.
While the Double Wing’s effectiveness has triggered a handful of 1,000-yard, single-season rushers under Massengale’s watch, nobody was as explosive as Poirier, who tallied eight touchdown runs of 25 yards or more and surpassed the 100-yard mark in eight games.
Poirier, who was an ECC-Small first team back as a junior, compiled 601 carries for 2,836 rushing yards and 31 ground touchdowns in his career. He added three kickoff return touchdowns and caught 35 passes for 531 yards and six touchdowns, giving him 40 career touchdowns.
“Zach was the best running back in the ECC this year,” Massengale said. “Obviously, I am biased, but I do feel he did things this year that other backs would not have been able to do. His patience in allowing blocks to develop was textbook and his ability to get yards after contact was unnoticed by many, except for the kids that attempted to tackle him.”
Poirier constantly lauded his offensive line, which was a good one, represented by Francis and Turner on the ECC-Medium first team.
Francis, Stonington’s biggest lineman at 6-1, 240 pounds, played mostly at right tackle as a three-year starter.
“Ryan has been a rock for us,” Massengale said. “ He saved his best play for last as he showed his athleticism and versatility in the biggest games against the toughest opponents. He always carried out his assignment and was always willing to fill varied roles aside from playing tackle.”
Francis, an All-ECC Small first-team pick as a junior, shifted to left tackle and center for selected downs at times. He was also used defensively on the line and at linebacker where he intercepted a pass.
“His versatility says a lot about him and his knowledge of the game,” Massengale said.
Turner did not have great size (6-feet, 180 pounds) but he was quick and used leverage to move his man. Rarely did he and quarterback Divante White botch center-snap exchanges. Turner made ECC-Small honorable mention last season.
“Brad was the best, and most likely smallest, center in the ECC. He has a great first and second step which allowed him to engage his man quickly. He was a tenacious blocker who got after it on every play,” Massengale said.
If Turner was an ultra-quick offensive lineman, nobody moved faster on the defensive line than Calmar, who also made his mark as a running back, gaining 886 yards and scored 16 touchdowns this season. The 5-11, 175-pounder made his share of tackles for losses.
Two of his biggest defensive plays came in Stonington’s 28-21 win against Ledyard to decide the ECC-Medium championship. He helped cause a fumble with four minutes left, leading to the Bears’ go-ahead touchdown. He then registered a co-sack on the final play to preserve the victory.
“Harry had a great season on both sides of the ball,” Massengale said. “He possess an ability to take a game over in ways that few players I have coached have been capable of. He was pretty much unblockable on the defensive line and he was able to use his speed and quickness to get behind offensive linemen before they were on the second step. On offense, he was flat out dangerous. There was always the possibility of an amazing run each time he carried the ball.”
Despite missing four games in his junior year with an injury, Calmar finished his career with 2,217 rushing yards on 285 carries and scored 31 rushing touchdowns. He caught 25 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns and returned one kickoff for a score to give him 35 career touchdowns. He made ECC-Small first team as a linebacker as a sophomore.
Dipollino, a 6-3, 210-pound senior, also came up big against Ledyard, combining with Calmar on the game-ending sack. Dipollino was Stonington’s leading sack specialist all season and also contributed as a blocking tight end.
“C.J. provided so much leadership for us,” Massengale said. “He was a vocal leader and led by example on the field. Defensively, he was a disruptive force in opposing backfields, compiling a lot of sacks, tipped passes and tackles for losses.”
While Stonington’s other first-team all-stars were established coming into the season, Riordan made the most of his first year as a starter, excelling at linebacker and developing into a nearly automatic extra point kicker with 35 successful points after touchdowns.
As a freshman two years ago, Riordan lettered on the soccer team. He switched to football last season and played mostly special teams.
“He is a very dynamic, and competitive athlete,” Massengale said. “He played his linebacker position from sideline to sideline. He has the ability to play disciplined football while still getting involved in plays that make you say, “How did he get all the way over there to make the tackle?”
One of Riordan’s biggest moments was a tackle on Ledyard receiver Khary Childs at the 5-yard line to preserve Stonington’s seven-point lead in the final minute.
The Bears had six more players selected as ECC-Medium honorable mention: senior Divante White at quarterback, junior running back Matt Mitchell, senior defensive lineman Andrew Cordeiro, senior offensive lineman Nick Ryan, senior linebacker Zach Mueller, sophomore punter Seamus Wallace.
White, a two-year starter who was ECC-Small first team last season, passed for 889 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior and added six more rushing TDs. The 6-2, 185-pounder also played safety, intercepting two passes and returning a fumble for a touchdown. He finished with 2,200 passing yards and 26 touchdowns in his career.
Mitchell rushed for 603 yards, led the Bears with 16 receptions for 298 yards and scored seven touchdowns offensively. He also intercepted a pass at cornerback.
Cordeiro, a 6-foot, 300-pound senior, was a force as a run-stopper at nose guard, giving the Bears much-needed size on the interior defensive front.
Mueller was steady at outside linebacker and provided big-play capability with an interception and caused a key fumble in the fourth quarter of the Ledyard victory.
Ryan started all 11 games at guard, providing a valuable link to the unit which helped the Bears rush for 2,926 yards as a team. Ryan also earned an ECC Sportsmanship award.
Wallace, a sophomore, showed a good lefty leg in the few times he was called upon to punt.
He specialized in kicking punts inside the 15-yard line, pinning opponents deep in their side of the field.