WATERFORD — The way Stonington High coach A.J. Massengale and Bear running back Zach Poirier saw it, the strategy to turn around the Bears’ rough start to the season followed a brutally simple plan.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
That’s what Poirier said after the Bears seemingly ran the same play — Poirier carrying on a “reach” sweep around left end — over and over again in the second half to outlast Waterford, 35-21, in an ECC-Medium game to notch their first victory after two losses to open the season. Stonington (1-2, 1-1 ECC-Medium) rushed 60 times for 473 yards, led by Poirier’s 21 carries for 222.
At halftime, Poirier had 85 yards on six carries. The Bears rode their 5-foot-4 inch horse in the second half and got plenty of rushing help from quarterback Divante White (17 for 128 yards, 2 TDs), Harry Calmar (13 for 70, 1 TD) and Matt Mitchell (9 for 53, 1 TD).
After Waterford (1-3, 1-2 ECC-Medium) scored on a 99-yard drive to tie the game at 21-21 with 11:21 left to play, Stonington grounded out two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“We had the mentality that we were going to run that play until they stopped us,” said Poirier, who ripped off nine runs of 10 yards or more with a long gain of 45 yards. “The line, backs and receivers were blocking great, giving me a chance to reach the edge.”
Stonington’s Double Wing offense has produced during the Bears’ slow start, but the Bears hadn’t been able to compensate for a porous defense during an 0-2 start. Massengale used several offensive starters, including White at safety and Poirier and Calmar at linebacker against Waterford. The one-way platoon contained Waterford to a degree, but the Bears did not gain full control until Lancer starting quarterback Seth Hoagland left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Bear defensive back Bow Johnson intercepted freshman backup Spencer Hoagland, Seth’s brother, twice in the fourth quarter.
“Seth’s injury kind of stunted us at the end,” Waterford coach Mike Ellis said. “The way things were going, it looked like it was going to be a shootout and whoever had the ball last was going to win.”
Waterford’s best defense was Stonington committing 12 penalties for 120 yards and losing two fumbles. After Waterford took a 7-0 first-quarter lead on Bishme Shepherd’s 12-yard run, Stonington drove 82 yards on 11 plays, scoring on White’s 2-yard run.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Bears squandered a chance to take the lead when Waterford’s Isaiah Jones recovered a Calmar fumble at the 4, ending a 60-yard drive.
Stonington’s defense forced a Waterford three and out, setting up a 35-yard scoring drive, ending on Mitchell’s 1-yard run around right end on 4th-and-goal to make it 14-7 with 6:34 left in the second.
Waterford answered with a 68-yard drive, scoring on a 6-yard run by Hoagland (14 for 75 yards rushing, 7 for 12, 96 yards passing) on 4th and goal to tie it at 14 with 3:03 left in the second.
The Bears’ penalties took their toll when a 50-yard pass from White to Calmar inside the Waterford 10 was called back with two minutes left in the half. Three of the penalties were personal fouls and four were holding.
“The kids overcame all the penalties,” Massengale said. “We’ll have to figure out what happened on film.”
On its first third quarter possession starting at its 10-yard line, Mitchell ran for 15, Poirier ran for 15, 14 20 and the final 6 to put Stonington up, 21-14, with 8:32 left to play. The Bears’ offensive line was taking over the game. Poirier’s 45-yard run late in the third quarter drove Stonington inside the Lancer 10.
But Poirier was stopped one yard short at the 1 on 4th-and-goal as the Bears tried to take a two-score lead.
Waterford responded with an 11-play, 99-yard drive to tie it at 21-21 with 11:21 left.
Both kickers were perfect on the night: the Bears’ Jack Riordan was 5-for-5 and Spencer Hoagland made all three for Waterford.
“We faced some adversity there,” Massengale said. “We had a chance to go up by two scores, knocking on the door then they come back 99 yards. But these kids are resilient. Never once did they question themselves.”
Stonington rushed eight times for 62 yards, scoring on Calmar’s 5-yard run to make it, 28-21, with 7:36 left. With the younger Hoagland in at quarterback, Waterford turned the ball over on Johnson’s first pick at the Bears’ 20.
Four plays later, White kept the ball on an option to the right, juked three defenders and raced to the right sideline for a 65-yard TD run.
Stonington opens at home 6:30 p.m. Friday against Griswold.