LEDYARD — Stonington’s defense played tough when it mattered most and the offense turned in some big plays as the 14U team won the Southern New England Youth Football Conference championship with a 34-6 win against Ledyard Sunday night.
Stonington, which opened the season with a loss to perennial power New London, finished the year with 11 straights wins to complete a 11-1 season.
“It’s a bend-don’t-break defense,” said coach Erick Costa as Stonington players and their families celebrated the title at Judge Crandall Field. “Each kid picks the other one up.
“You can’t play football with one person. We do have great athletes and a great group of kids, but we play as a team.”
Stonington set the tone early when the Bears scored on the first play of the game.
Quarterback Chase Gouvin found Luke Lowry beyond the Ledyard secondary for a 46-yard scoring play. Lowry caught the ball at about the 20 and ran the rest of the way for the score.
The game was played on an 80-yard field.
“We wanted to keep them on their heels, starting with the first play,” Gouvin said. “They weren’t expecting it and we scored. We were able to exploit their defense really well.”
Coach Costa said he had confidence the Bears could throw the ball.
“We knew that first play they would be aggressive trying to set the tone,” Costa said. “We are a team that is capable of doing multiple things, not just running the ball. We can spread the field out.”
Stonington got excellent field position to start its next drive when defensive lineman Oscar Durand recovered a Ledyard fumble at the Colonels 34-yard line.
Ledyard fumbled the ball away four times.
Three plays later, Ben French scored on a 33-yard run around left end with what may have been the play of the game. French used his ample speed to outrun the majority of the Ledyard defense on the sweep play.
He still had one defender remaining at about the 7-yard line. He juked him off-balance and then shoved him to the ground with a stiff arm to score with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
Ledyard fumbled it away on its next possession and Gouvin found Aiden Schrage open down the middle for a 26-yard scoring play to make it 18-0 with 43.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
Ledyard put together a long drive to start the second quarter behind the strong running of quarterback Jackson Poulton.
But the drive stalled at Stonington’s 15-yard line when Will French made two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. French gave the Ledyard offense fits most of the night. Durand stopped a fourth down run with another tackle behind the line.
Later in the second quarter, defensive lineman Trevor Costa scooped up another Ledyard fumble and raced 45 yards for a touchdown to push the Stonington lead to 24-0 at the half.
Costa, Durand and Tyler Leach give the Bears a formidable defensive front. Costa and Leach stand 6-0 and both go about 190 pounds. Costa is 5-10 and weighs 230.
“We let up some plays, but we know we have to play the next play because you never know what is going to happen to get us back into the game,” coach Costa said of the fumble return by his son.
Ledyard opened the third quarter with another long drive using 11 plays to reach the Stonington 7-yard line before turning it over with another fumble. Costa recovered this one, too.
Ben French scored Stonington’s final TD on a 25-yard sweep around right end in the fourth quarter. He finished with 75 yards on five carries.
Stonington also scored a safety in the fourth quarter when Will French tackled James Green, an elusive threat, in the end zone for a safety.
Joshua Mooney also kicked a PAT for the Bears.
Ledyard finished the season 9-3 with two losses to Stonington and one to Westerly.