WESTERLY — Stonington High’s touchdown in the final minute lifted the Bears past Westerly High, 22-19, in 2008, ending one of the best games in the long football series between the two schools.
Jim Ceil threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Wilkins with just 42.7 seconds remaining to give Stonington the victory.
Stonington had regained possession with 1:33 left on the clock at its own 35-yard line. The Bears did not have any timeouts remaining.
Stonington (8-3) was forced to use a spread formation for the first time that season.
The winning drive started with a 38-yard pass to Zach Wheeler that carried to the Westerly 27-yard line. After spiking the ball, Ceil then ran for 8 yards before throwing the winning TD pass to Wilkins. The Bears had put together the winning march in just four plays.
Wilkins caught the ball at about the 3-yard line and went in for the score.
“Oh my God, this is the best feeling in the world,” Ceil said. “I never thought it would end like this. It’s the last game I’ll probably ever play. It’s real emotional; I’m so happy. We just came together and played well.”
Ceil was named the WBLQ Sports Open Mic MVP of the game.
“Everybody had the mindset, we’ve done it, we’ve pulled it out,” Westerly coach Chris Wriedt said of the sudden turn of events. “All we had to do was kick off, [defend] a couple of plays, they’ve only got one timeout left, how much can they do? Well, they did enough to win the game. You’ve got to give them credit.”
Westerly (6-5) had taken a 19-16 lead with 1:39 remaining in the game on a splendid touchdown catch by Mike Portunato in the right corner of the end zone on the Stonington side of the field.
The touchdown reception was Portunato’s 10th of the season, and quarterback Brandon Moore’s TD pass was his 13th. The 10 TD receptions by Portunato were a school record.
Westerly had moved 77 yards in 1:17 seconds. Moore completed a 17-yard pass to Wassim Hosaini and another to R.J Travisano of 14 yards during the drive.
Ricky Doucette finished with 87 yards on 17 carries for the Bulldogs and scored his team’s first touchdown.
Stonington’s Zach Branesky scored on a 54-yard run, and wingback Josh Whitford caught a 30-yard sideline TD pass from Ceil to put the Bears up 14-6.
Jimmy Connelly tackled Moore in the end zone with 39.9 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Bears a 16-6 lead.
Doucette ended a 12-play, 88-yard drive with a 7-yard TD run to make it 16-12 with 3:20 left in the first half.
Connelly and Shane Balestracci had interceptions in the second half for Stonington.
“I’ve never been in a game like this, as a coach, that even comes close to this,” Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. “I think the only other time in all the time I’ve been involved with football have I been involved with a team that scored late in the game like that — when they had to score.
“Everything had to go right on that drive and fortunately for us it did.”
Ceil, who also intercepted a pass, was named Stonington’s best offensive player by the Stonington Police Athletic Association.
Wheeler was named Stonington’s WBLQ/Dime Bank MVP for the season. Portunato received the award for Westerly and was the police association’s top offensive payer for Westerly.
Westerly linebacker Nick Schilke and Stonington lineman Michael Tranchida were named their team’s top defenders.
Stonington two-way lineman Stephen Bailey and Westerly center/linebacker T.J. Liguori received the Washington Trust Leadership Awards.
— Keith Kimberlin