Montville - The Ledyard High School football team took things for granted earlier this season. Most of the band was back together after advancing to last season's Class M finals. Surely, they'd roll back into Rentschler Field again.
The Colonels learned quickly that it takes effort to win, losing two of their first four games.
But Friday was different. The Colnels earned a 26-21 win over Montville, to prevent the Indians from clinching the Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division title.
The win also kept the Colonels' playoff hopes alive for another week.
"We gave it everything we had," Ledyard senior nose guard Colin Grim said. "We really thought we had everything just because of last year. This year, we didn't realize we have to work for it, and we're starting to do that."
Montville is 5-2, 3-1.
The Colonels (5-2, 2-1) trailed 7-0 at halftime. They trailed 14-13 early in the fourth quarter. They also had a goal line stand, preventing the Indians from scoring on fourth-and-goal from the Ledyard 1-yard line.
"Tonight, what I saw was our guys face adversity, facing very difficult situations," Colonels coach Jim Buonocore said. "Backs against the wall, and they found a way to make plays. They found a way to win a game."
Ledyard had taken a 19-14 lead when Jeremiah Crowley returned the ensuing kickoff to the Colonels' 6. Joe Carter made a touchdown-saving tackle.
"Last week, I thought we played tremendous football (a 48-7 win over East Lyme)," Buonocore said. "Tonight, our level of play was very good, but to come out in some of the situations, particularly that goal line stand, hang in there physically, emotionally, and keep coming after them, it's just a great testament to our players."
The fourth quarter was bonkers. Each team scored twice.
Ledyard benefited from the game's most bizarre play. It had the ball at the Indians' 22 when Montville's Peter Utz leveled Colonels' quarterback John Rainey for a sack.
Rainey fumbled, and Carter scooped up the ball. He ran for a 32-yard touchdown to push Ledyard ahead for good, 19-14, with 9 minutes, 21 seconds left.
"(Rainey) hit my knees, so I'm thinking, 'Oh, no," Ledyard senior lineman Kyle Wilson said. "I thought the play was over, but then I see Joe coming up the sideline."
The Montville sideline and fans were incensed by the play, arguing that the play was dead.
Rule 7, section 4 of the National High School Federation Football Rules Book states that, "If a fumble of a backward pass is caught or recovered by any player, he may advance."
"I don't know," Indians' coach Tanner Grove said when asked about the play. "I really couldn't see too well. There were a couple of things tonight that I'm going to watch the tape and see how it went."
Rainey scored on a 4-yard keeper with a little more than three minutes left in the game as the Colonels went ahead, 26-14.
The game wasn't over yet. Montville's Nick Clemons returned the kickoff for an 82-yard touchdown. Nick Veillette's extra point cut his team's deficit to 26-21.
Ledyard went three-and-out on its next drive and was forced to punt.
The Indians got the ball back at its own 28 with 40 seconds left.
Clemons threw an incompletion on first down.
Kyle Perry, Ryan Wade, Grim and Wilson all combined to sack Clemons for a 9-yard loss on second down.
Clemons had to spike the ball to stop the clock on third down as his team was out of timeouts. Carter knocked down Clemons' fourth-down pass.