NEW LONDON — Local scholastic football cynics might be amused to hear that members of the Westerly and Stonington high school football teams played in a summer 7-on-7 passing league Tuesday at Cannemela Field.
Stonington, the double-wing flag carriers locally, opened up its offense a bit last year with Drew Champagne at quarterback. But nobody would mistake the Bears for a team that stretches the field with downfield passing strikes.
Westerly, with a strong crew of linemen and a stable of backs, led by thoroughbred Tristan Turano, an 1,800-plus-yard rusher in each of the last two seasons, passed fewer than 75 times total during the last two playoff seasons.
But the two rivals produced an entertaining and, at times, physical and feisty contest. Westerly came out on top, 36-14, in the Coach Beams league playoff meeting as junior Xavier Ledbetter’s aerial game gave hints that the Bulldogs might look downfield a little more this season.
The Bulldogs and Bears were part of a one-day playoff tournament Tuesday for all 16 teams in the Coach Beams league. Each contest was 20 minutes in length.
Westerly, a 6-8 team during the passing league regular season, lost to eventual champ NFA in the semifinals. Stonington which finished second to last in the passing league regular season with a 2-14 mark, stunned second-seeded Griswold in the opening round.
“Personnel dictates what kind of style I play,” Westerly coach Duane Maranda said.
“I have to do whatever is called upon for us to succeed. When I was at New London, we spread things out and threw 90 percent of the time. We were small up front, had good receivers and my son Danny at quarterback, who threw 50 TDs in two years. At Westerly, we’ve had big linemen and running backs.”
Ledbetter looked comfortable throwing deep. Against Stonington, he hit Rocco Cillino, Anthony Durante and Jared Keszyinki, who plays guard in the fall, for long scoring strikes. Cillino and Derek Mason had interceptions for the Bulldogs.
Stonington was coached by former player Liam Wallace, who plays at Endicott College, and Baylor University student Elizabeth Burnside, niece of assistant George Burnside. CIAC rules prohibit regular coaches from calling plays in passing leagues. The RIIL allows coaches to participate in such leagues.
Despite losing to Westerly, Stonington left the passing league on a positive note. Champagne’s late touchdown pass to Christian Hudson helped the Bears surprise Griswold, which was 14-2 in the summer league regular season.
“We’ve had some kids at lacrosse camps and they’ve missed these games,” said George Burnside, who watched the game from the stands. “We have a solid group of freshmen, who helped the eighth-grade team win the [Southern New England Youth League] championship. They’ve come together as well.”
Champagne and Brandt Ogden looked good at quarterback. Hudson, Josh Curtin, Marco Tedeschi and Lucas Morrison caught TD passes Tuesday.
After the game, despite the contested “touch” game that saw some players shouldering receivers to the turf, both teams shook hands in a show of sportsmanship. But not before players on each team reminded one another, “See you in November.”