NEW LONDON >> Middletown’s unbeaten season came to an end Friday night.
New London freshman Garrett Burdick kicked a 22-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Whalers to a come-from-behind, 23-21, non-league victory against the Blue Dragons at newly refurbished Camanella Field.
Middletown, ranked No. 3 in the New Haven Register football poll, fell to 8-1, while New London (6-2) captured its fifth straight and moved into the eighth and final spot in the Class L playoff rankings.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” said Middletown coach Sal Morello. “But we win together and we lose together. At some point we’ve been telling the kids those penalties are going to catch up to us and they did. We had two touchdowns called back and that’s part of the game. There are no excuses.”
Middletown junior quarterback Dario Highsmith rushed for 221 yards on 39 carries with three touchdowns. But a 60-yard touchdown run by Highsmith with the Blue Dragons leading 21-14 early in the fourth quarter was nullified by an illegal procedure penalty and that set the stage for the Whalers comeback.
Besides numerous penalties, Middletown also fumbled the snap on a punt attempt in the foruth quarter.
The kick was eventually blocked and the ball was recovered by New London’s J. Hunter Roman at the Blue Dragons 15 yard line.
Two plays later, Whalers junior quarterback Danny Maranda zipped a TD pass to Jelani Lucas.
Middletown’s Jacob Homar made a sensational block on Burdick’s extra point try and the Blue Dragons led 21-20 with 6:12 left to play.
Middletown, however, failed to get a first down and the Whalers began their game-winning drive at their own 37. Maranda, who completed 19 of 20 passes for 165 yards, found Lucas for 30 yards to get the ball into Blue Dragons territory.
Maranda also hit Lucas on a key third-and-17 play as Lucas leaped over two Middletown defenders to grab the ball, giving the Whalers a first and goal at the five yard line.
Three running plays later netted no yards and New London let the clock run down to 2.2 seconds as Burdick trotted onto the field.
“I felt a lot of pressure,” Burdick said. “I wasn’t feeling the greatest, a lot of butterflies. I’m only a freshman. I saw the snap, I saw the kick and I just hammered it.”
“He’s done it all year long,” said New London coach Duane Maranda. “I was just hoping for the protection. I knew that if he got the protection and got the kick off it was going to be good and the protection was there.”
Middletown went 72 yards on seven plays on the game’s opening possession, capped by a Highsmith’s five-yard TD run. Blue Dragons sophomore Hunter Belzo recovered the ensuing kick-off and Highsmith engineered another scoring drive, racing into the end zone from 14 yards out to give Middletown a 14-0 lead with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
New London answered on a 17-yard scoring toss from Miranda to Joes Garcia and the Blue Dragons led 14-7 at halftime.
Highsmith’s 34-yard TD scamper made it 21-7. But New London’s Nico Ramos answered with a 60-yard touchdown run to make it 21-14.
“Now we know what this part feels like,” said Morello.
“It doesn’t feel too good. We’ve just got to get back to work and get ready for Simsbury. We have to use this as a learning experience. I told the kids we’ve got plenty to play for still. We just have to keep working.”