To many state football followers, the Ledyard High football team has pulled off a tremendous accomplishment, reaching the Class M state final next Saturday against undefeated Ansonia at UConn's Rentschler Field.
The Colonels, a team without preseason hype and never included in any state poll top 10, with a large collection of first-time starters. It's a tremendous success story ... with one more chapter remaining. Make no mistake, Ledyard celebrated its 35-0 domination of Wolcott in the semis Saturday, but it is not simply happy to be going to the Rent.
"You don't play football to finish in second place," said , who piled on his ECC record total of single-season yardage (over 2,400) with 196 and two touchdowns. "I'm looking forward to the challenge of Ansonia. This is why you play football. If we play disciplined, focused football, we can play with any team in the state."
The verbose PA announcer at Middletown High gave out-of-town state scores more often than the 10-minute ticker. Everyone in attendance heard Ansonia's first-half total rise out of control to 40 en route to its 48-14 win, the same score it beat Wolcott in November, over Berlin in the other semifinal. If that was impressive, then so was Ledyard.
The Colonels dominated the line of scrimmage from the start, limiting Wolcott (8-4) to minus yards rushing and 11 yards overall on just 13 plays while gaining 240 themselves on 33 plays and taking a 21-0 halftime lead. Ledyard's defense did not allow a long play. Josh Lawrence, Cal Williams and Dallas Smith registered sacks, Smith and Daggett played their usual intimidating linebacking and Baxley keyed a strong secondary effort with an interception.
"I didn't get much sleep preparing these guys for their wide-open attack," Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore said. "We wanted them to play fast, play physical and play aggressive. Our offensive line controlled the tempo. It was a great job by both lines. We played a variety of different coverages that confused them a bit and made sure to put pressure on the quarterback."
Ledyard took the opening kickoff and drove 69 yards to score on Manwaring's 9-yard run. Early in the second quarter, John Rainey capped a 57-yard drive with a 1-yard run over center Evan Stockmon for a 14-0 lead.
Slade Baxley was key in both drives as Manwaring's co-star, catching a 26 yard pass in the first and running 18 yards on the second. He was the main man on the third scoring jaunt, catching a Rainey's short pass and motoring 48 yards for a score to make it 21-0.
Wolcott showed some life in the second half after Baxley fumbled a punt, Ledyard's only blemish, with its vaunted spread offense driving inside the Ledyard 15. But quarterback Michale Nicol fumbled and the ball was batted around and inadvertantly kicked 30 yards back, effectively negating Wolcott's lone yardage, until Ledyard recovered.
Manwaring pounded the ball in from the 4 to make it 28-0 with 1:16 left in the third. Fullback Matt Daggett's 3-yard run with 3:55 left in the game made it 35-0. Andy Lee made all five conversion kicks.
The ECC Medium title, playoff berth and now the state final. Almost all three goals have been reached. Only Ansonia, the state's all-time leader in state football titles with 16 and a team with sophomore phenom Arkeel Newsome and his 50-plus TDs, stands in their way.
Jim Buonocore Sr. beat Ansonia a couple of times in state finals while coaching New London. Can his son do the same Saturday?
"I'm sure we're going to hear all week that is David against Goliath," Buonocore said. "We're going to show up and we're going to be very tough to beat."
Recall Ledyard's season: