EAST LYME — After opening the season with two straight losses, the Stonington High School football team has dug itself out of the early hole nicely.
But with big games against Ledyard and Norwich Free Academy still on the horizon, the Bears needed to beat East Lyme on Friday if they wanted to keep their chances at a Class M playoff bid alive.
Stonington responded nicely with a 42-28 win over the ECC Large Division Vikings in a non-league game.
Stonington (4-2) got big contributions from its running game, particularly from senior halfback Harry Calmar, who gashed the Vikings’ defense between the tackles for big yardage.
“We knew coming in East Lyme was a big team, but our offensive line just dominated up front,” Calmar said. “They played fast and executed really well and opened things up for us.”
Calmar may have been the focal point of the Bears’ running game Friday, but it was the one-two combination of Calmar and Zach Poirier that made the Bears so effective on the ground.
The Vikings (4-2) keyed on Poirier and tried to take away the outside stretch play — more than once, they actually tackled the senior tailback even when he didn’t receive the handoff — and limited his damage in the first half.
“They were flying to him (Poirier) and they were real close, too,” Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. “They got really close; sometimes they got to within about a fingernail of him.
“We felt confident in the blocking scheme, based on what we were seeing, that we could get the edge with Zach on that play. The linebackers are in a tough spot on those plays because they’re trying to stop Zach, which leaves things open for Harry (Calmar).”
The Bears led most of the game, but the Vikings stayed on their heels throughout the second half despite being down 28-14 at the break.
An East Lyme touchdown pass in the third quarter cut the lead to 28-21, but the combination of Calmar and Poirier came through again, this time with a 74-yard drive capped by a 30-yard Poirier run.
The scored remained 35-21 until the fourth quarter, when East Lyme’s Eric Stirtan finished off a 51-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run and made it 35-28 with 4:18 left.
The Vikings elected not to go for the onside kick, and the Bears drove down the field, ran all but 40 seconds off the clock and scored on a 2-yard Poirier run.
After a pair of early turnovers, the Bears found themselves in an early 6-0 hole.
Stonington responded with a six-play 65-yard drive, capped by a 16-yard Matt Mitchell run and Stonington took the lead for good 7-6.
A flurry of scoring late in the second quarter helped the Bears extend the lead.
Calmar scored on a 35-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half and Divante White’s 55-yard fumble return made it 21-6 with just under 3 minutes to play.
The Vikings responded with a three-play drive that took just over a minute culminating with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Murphy to Dean Beebe.
Stonington muffed the ensuing kick and East Lyme recovered, but Bow Johnson got the ball right back for the Bears when he intercepted a Murphy pass at the Bears’ 20-yard line.
A 59-yard Calmar run on the second play of the drive and two East Lyme personal fouls set the Bears up first-and-goal at East Lyme’s 9-yard line.
Four plays later, White scored from two yards out on a bootleg and the Bears led 28-14 at the half.
Friday’s win was the fourth straight for the Bears, who are back on track after some early difficulties.
Calmar said that preparation has been the key to the turnaround.
“I think the biggest difference has been practice,” he said. “Our weeks of preparation have been great for these games.”
Massengale hinted at some other early problems.
“We had a lot of things in our program that set us back in those weeks,” he said. “We’re getting guys back .but we also had things we had to deal with.
“We had distractions in practice, things that were distracting that we had to learn some lessons from. We had to learn there are consequences for our actions.”
The Bears host Bacon Academy Friday at 6:30 p.m. before playing ECC powers Ledyard and Norwich Free Academy the following two weeks.
“There’s no easy week with our schedule. We really have a brutal path that we’re going to have to take one step at a time.”