The Waterford High football team found a way to slow down Granby/Canton QB Jackson Rome in Wednesday night’s Class M quarterfinal game at Waterford High. They simply kept him off the field.
The No. 2 seeded Lancers ate up 8:16 of the fourth quarter with a 16-play, 60-yard drive that ended with kicker Sam Menders hitting a career-best 35-yard field goal with 3:44 remaining to lift Waterford to a 10-6 win over Granby/Canton and into next Monday’s Class M semifinals against ECC rival Killingly.
Rome has been the catalyst all year for Granby. He came into the game with a team-leading 1,152 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns while throwing for 786 yards and five TDs. But he had few opportunities against the Lancers (10-1).
Waterford displayed an uncanny ability to keep drives alive. On their game-winning drive, the Lancers successfully gained first downs twice on third down and twice on fourth down. In the first half, Waterford had another long drive of 18 plays that ate up 7:24 of the second quarter. On that drive, the Lancers were 2-for-2 converting on fourth down. Overall, Waterford was 4-for-4 converting on fourth down in the contest.
Granby/Canton (8-3) had one last opportunity after Waterford took a 10-6 lead. They drove to the Waterford 33-yard line with 1:51 remaining but a false start penalty cost them five yards. Then, Waterford linebackers Ethan Welch and Jackson Harshberger were too much and sacked Rome for an 11-yard loss with 1:03 remaining.
After two incompletions by Rome, the Lancers were celebrating their first-ever CIAC playoff win.
Rome completed 7-of-12 passes for 53 yards and had 28 yards rushing on 12 carries. The Bears rushed for just 126 yards in the game.
Waterford held a 7-6 lead when they took over on their own 40-yard line with 11:24 left in the game. They faced fourth down and one on their own 49-yard line but Harshberger, who ran for a game-high 59 yards on 12 carries, ran for three yards up the middle and a first down.
Three plays later, the Lancers were facing a fourth down and 2 on the Granby/Canton 40-yard line and it was Trey Brennan with a six-yard run around the end to keep the drive alive. Later in the drive, Harshberger ran for three yards on a third down-and-two situation for another first down.
Granby/Canton took an early 6-0 lead with 10:59 left in the second half when Sam Attianese burst around the left side and down the sideline with a 41-yard touchdown run. The extra point was no good after it hit the crossbar and bounced back onto the field.
Waterford responded immediately. After Granby/Canton defender Colin Makin batted away a pass on a deep ball into Lancer territory, Christian Hightower gained 23 yards to the Bear 22-yard line. Hightower grabbed a short pass from quarterback Ryan Bakke with one hand, pulled it closer to his body, kept his balance and scooted up the field.
On the next play, it was Brennan running 22 yards around the end for the touchdown and with Menders’ extra point, Waterford had a 7-6 lead.
The Bears drove down to the Waterford 21-yard line with 14 seconds left in the first half but a pair of incomplete passes spoiled the Bears’ chances to take the lead at intermission.
Junior Devin Flagg led the Bears defensively with 14 tackles while Attianese had 12 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception. He also ran 49 yards on four carries, offensively.
Junior Donte’l Williams and freshman Khalil Thomas each had 11 tackles with Williams getting a sack, recovering a fumble and getting two tackles for loss. Thomas also recovered a fumble as the Bears forced three turnovers in the game.
NOTES: The Bears were making their CIAC playoff appearance since 2015 when they lost to Seymour in the quarterfinals. …
Waterford 10, Granby/Canton 6
Granby/Canton (8-3) 0 6 0 0 — 6
Waterford (10-1) 0 7 0 3 — 10
GC: Sam Attianese 41 run (kick fails), 10:59
W: Trey Brennan 17 run (Sam Menders kick), 6:50
W: Menders FG 35, 3:44
RUSHING: Granby/Canton – Jackson Rome 12-28, Dylan Disabella 1-12, Sam Attianese 4-49, Sam Schock 2-37; Waterford – Jackson Harshberger 18-59, Ryan Bakken 11-37, Trey Brennan 6-36, Christian Hightower 9-32, Mike Vincent 1-6, Matt Sanford 1-10, Sam Menders 1-0, Luke Sokolski 2-9
PASSING: Granby/Canton – Jackson Rome 7-12-0, 53; Waterford – Ryan Bakken 7-20-1, 61
RECEIVING: Granby/Canton – Colin Makin 1-11, Simon Matthews 1-20, Dylan Disabella 2-6, Sam Schock 2-16; Waterford – Jackson Harshberger 4-41, Christian Hightower 2-20, Sam Menders 1-minus 5
RETURNS: Kickoffs – Schock (GC) 2-25; INTERCEPTIONS: Attanese (GC) 1-31, FUMBLE REC: Donte’l Williams (GC) 1, Khalil Thomas (GC) 1