WATERFORD — The French Revolution was not quite enough to save the Stonington High football team in its epic battle with Waterford on Friday night.
Junior Will French, Stonington's starting free safety and backup running back, was pressed into feature-back duty when starter Matt Castagliuolo was hurt on the game's first play. French responded with one of Stonington's most prolific individual efforts in recent memory, scoring six touchdowns (five rushing, one kick return) and gaining 269 yards on 28 carries.
Nobody could stop French, who broke nearly 20 tackles throughout his masterpiece performance. But Stonington's defense couldn't stop the Lancers, who emerged with a 55-54 victory in double overtime over the visiting Bears in an ECC out-of-division game.
Stonington (4-3) had a chance to win it after the first overtime, but missed an extra point to leave the game tied at 48. Waterford's Owen Lanuza kicked his seventh PAT to give the Lancers (2-5) the margin of victory.
"That was a wild game and I thought we had it," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said. "I feel bad for the kids because they played their hearts out. We had chances to nail down the win but they made a play or two more than us."
Coming off a last-minute comeback win over Ledyard, Stonington looked to continue its winning ways against a 1-5 team that was much stronger than its record indicated. Waterford lost close games with NFA, New London and Woodstock.
"We knew Waterford was good," Massengale said. "Their record is a reflection of their schedule, and we didn't underestimate them. Their quarterback (Nate Hynes) is as good as anyone. He made plays all night and we had trouble with him."
Hynes ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He passed for 200 yards and three TDs. The Bears also had fits containing receiver Jordan Elci, who caught a 48-yard touchdown pass and scored on both of his reverse runs, the second a 10-yard TD to tie the game at 54 to set up the winning kick.
With so much scoring, we might as well start from the beginning to make sense of it all. After one quarter, the game seemed nondescript as Waterford took a 7-0 lead. Then the French Revolution began.
French's 3-yard scoring run and Ethan Mahoney's kick tied the score at 7 midway through the second quarter. Quarterback Lucian Tedeschi added a 4-yard TD run to put Stonington up 14-7.
Waterford tied it at 14 on Hynes' 9-yard pass to Mason Concasia with 3:10 left in the half and tacked on a go-head score on Hyne's 23-yard pass to Kevin Kilcomons with 1:15 left. Not enough time to get in the end zone? Hardly. Stonington drove 65 yards in a minute to score on Tedeschi's 2-yard pass to Brady Mullen with 5 seconds left to tie it a 21.
In the third quarter, Waterford lineman Tyler Ingemi caught a fumble in the air and scored from 1 yard out for a 28-21 lead. French answered with a 73-yard kickoff return to tie it, 28-28.
Hynes' 60-yard run keyed a three-play drive for Waterford to score on Elci's 12-yard run midway through the third for a 35-28 lead. Stonington responded with French's 30-yard run. The kick failed to leave Stonington down 35-34 with 2:11 left in the third.
A 5-9, 160-pounder with quickness, cutting ability and balance, French seemingly defied gravity with his ability to make defenders miss or his ability to stay upright despite taking seemingly solid hits.
"I honestly felt I had a game like this in me," French said. "I had big games in youth football — four TDs here and there. This year, I've played mostly defense, but when Matt Castags went out, coach put his trust in me. I just hit the hole hard and felt there was no way anyone was going to bring me down once I got rolling."
French's 58-yard TD run, during which he bounced off five attempted tacklers, and his two-point run put the Bears up 42-35 with 9:02 left. But Hynes hit Elci for a 48-yard TD with 7:21 left to tie the score, 42-42.
Defenses actually stiffened late in the fourth quarter. Stonington's Patrick McGugan intercepted a pass with 10 seconds left and returned it 20 yards to midfield. Tedeschi nearly pulled off a miraculous scramble of 32 yards to the Waterford 15 to end the fourth.
In the first OT, Hynes scored from the 1, but Waterford failed on a conversion run. Stonington answered on French's 8-yard touchdown run, but the PAT missed to leave it tied at 48.
Stonington scored in the second OT on French's sixth TD, but a conversion pass was knocked away. Elci's TD run and the PAT won it for the Lancers.