STONINGTON — When he was watching ESPN highlights of Thursday’s Oregon-Stanford game Friday morning with his son, Stonington High football coach A.J. Massengale reaffirmed his game plan for the Bears’ ECC-Medium showdown Friday night with Ledyard.
Stanford possessed the ball for 42 of 60 minutes to upset high-powered Oregon. Massengale told his son the Bears would have to follow that blueprint. He figured Stonington’s best defense against the explosive Colonels would be a ball-control offense.
The Bears followed the script, especially in the first half when they ran 40 offensive plays to Ledyard’s 14, but it took two crucial defensive plays by Stonington’s developing defense to secure a spine-tingling 28-21 victory that came down to the final play.
As the final gun sounded, Stonington blitzing linebacker Jacob Shulda and linemen C.J. Dipollino and Pat Dooley sacked Ty Ebdon at the 10-yard line, ending the game and ending a frantic Ledyard two-minute drill that saw Ebdon complete three passes to Khary Childs for 59 yards to the Bear 6. The climax triggered a victory-pile celebration in a significant Stonington win that puts the Bears (6-2, 3-1 ECC-Medium) in control of their destiny to claim a share of a division title and enhance their CIAC playoff ranking. Ledyard (7-2, 3-1 ECC-Medium) would have clinched the division title with a win.
“Ball control was the game plan,” Massengale said. “You saw in the second half they have so many dangerous weapons. We knew we would have to play some of our best football to win. While I kept telling the offense to keep matriculating the ball down the field, the defense came up with some huge plays in the fourth quarter. We blitzed on the last play. We had to create something and win the game.”
After Stonington controlled the first half, taking a 14-6 lead into halftime, Ledyard scored on its first two second-half possessions to take a 21-20 lead with 2:04 left in the third. The Colonels’ spread four-wide-receiver offense was spreading Stonington’s defense thin, and appeared to score again when Josiah Shumaker broke free for an apparent 46-yard touchdown run with five minutes to play. But Ledyard was called for downfield holding, nullifying the score.
Four plays later, with 2:50 left, Harry Calmar and Zach Mueller tackled Shumaker on a draw and stripped the ball, knocking it backward. The Bears’ Pat Dooley fell on it at Ledyard’s 40.
Stonington responded with eight rushes, scoring on quarterback Divante White’s determined 2-yard sneak with 1:44 left. Zach Poirier ran for two points to make it 28-21.
“We put ourselves in a bad spot, putting the ball on the ground after it looked like we were going in for a score to put the game away,” Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore said. “We didn’t play well from start to finish, but you have to credit Stonington. We did not match their level, but we still had a chance to win the game.”
Ledyard started its final drive at the 35. The sophomore Ebdon (9 of 17, 148 yards) hit Childs (5 catches for 110 yards) for receptions of 20 and 15 yards to the Stonington 30 with 15 seconds left, and then found Childs again for 24 to the 6 with seven seconds left. Stonington defensive back Stephon Hodge knocked the ball out of Childs’ hands in the end zone with four seconds left.
Stonington’s defense, torched against Fitch and Montville for more than 1,000 rushing yards in the Bears’ losses to open the season, came through in the clutch.
The Bears took a 7-0 lead on their opening 65-yard drive on Calmar’s 1-yard scoring run over the left side of the line, guard Dan Crandall and tackle Teddy Farrell. Jack Riordan added the extra point.
After a Ledyard three-and-out series, Stonington drove 74 yards in 13 plays, scoring on White’s 1-yard run to make it 14-0. The Bears leaned on Poirier (24 rushes, 136 yards) and unveiled a single-wing look to their usual double wing, with center Brad Turner long snapping directly to Poirier and Calmar, as well as White.
Ebdon’s 39-yard pass to Childs made it 14-6 in the second quarter. The Colonels tied it at 14 on Shumaker’s 1-yard run in the third before White hit Matt Mitchell with an 18-yard pass to make it 20-14 with 3:15 left in the third. Ledyard took just over a minute to score on Jordan Kowalski’s 25-yard run to lead, 21-20.
The Bears travel to ECC-Large power NFA at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.