STONINGTON — Stonington High's football team honored its seniors before Friday night's home game with Ledyard. It was a quick ceremony.
The Bears suited up just six seniors this season, the second straight year that only a handful of 12th-graders have played football. It helps explain Stonington's slump to a 1-9 record a year ago and to 0-9 this year after a 28-21 loss Friday to the Colonels at Donald E. Palmer Field.
After falling behind 14-0 in the first half, Stonington took a 21-14 lead with 5:51 left in the third quarter on Colin Startz's 48-yard interception touchdown return. Ledyard (2-7) regained the lead thanks to its two senior standouts. Jaiden Bickham ran 68 yards for a score after a pick-six and Colonel quarterback Brayden Grim ran 3 yards for a touchdown and added a two-point run for a 28-21 lead with 5:20 left to play.
Bickham (31 yards) and Grim (28) each ran for TDs in the first half for Ledyard.
"You need seniors to be difference-makers," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. "In the past we saw some lack of numbers in classes, so the lack of seniors the last two years were not a surprise. The seniors are a nice group of kids and work hard, but in the end we don't have a big group with enough to get it done."
Stonington played competitively for the first time in a while after two shutout losses, but the Bears could not crack the win column, leaving only the Thanksgiving game against Westerly as an opportunity to avoid a winless season.
"We've got to find the positives," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. "Down the road we're going to benefit from this. We played nine freshmen tonight. There's no team in the state of Connecticut playing nine freshmen in a varsity game."
One of Stonington's seniors, back Josh Curtin, did his best to give the Bears a shot at victory. He accounted for 43 yards in a 52-yard drive, scoring from 3 yards out to give the Bears 14-7 lead with 1:07 left in the half.
Curtin, who rushed for 83 yards and had 30 more receiving, scored on a 9-yard TD pass from Drew Champagne with 7:09 left in the third quarter. Josh Mooney's PAT tied the score at 14.
Startz, a sophomore, intercepted a Grim screen pass and sprinted down the right sideline from midfield to give Stonington a 21-14 lead, one of the few leads the Bears have held since the season opener in September.
"It was a great play and one of the highlights this season," Massengale said. "Finally we were able to make a play to change our fortune and luck. We've had a lot of those plays go against us this year."
But on the next drive, Bickham (140 yards) ripped off left tackle for 68 yards. His extra point bounced off the upright, leaving the Colonels down a point.
But Grim (89 yards) continued to hurt Stonington on option runs, leading the Colonels on a 53-yard drive to score from three yards out with 5:20 to go.
Stonington got the ball back twice in the final minutes but could not get a first down.
Ledyard has endured almost as tough a year as Stonington. The Colonels have lost several players who have quit during the year, leaving them with 24 in uniform Friday.
"Even though we're losing," Grim said, "I'm out here having fun, playing with my brothers. Everyone who is still here has dedication to play. You've got to keep trying."
A message for Stonington as well.