New Canaan stops New London on 2-point conversion for win
NEW LONDON -- A program whose success has been measured by large swathes of yardage saw its season extended by a matter of inches Tuesday night.
New Canaan's Dylan Leeming turned his body into a human battering ram on a deciding two-point conversion with 1:45 remaining, stopping New London's Kyle McKinnon inches from the goal line and preserving a pulsating 27-26 victory in the quarterfinal round of the CIAC Class L playoffs at Cannamela Field.
McKinnon, who had just scored on a two-yard run, took a pitch, reversed field and seemed to have a clear path to the left corner of the end zone.
"I saw him cut back and I didn't think I would be able to get there," Leeming said. "We collided, I snapped back and I guess he did too. I fell backwards and didn't even know what happened."
The fifth-seeded Rams improved to 10-1 and moved a win away from playing in their sixth straight state title game. They will face No. 1 Windsor in Saturday's semifinals.
If the high-flying Rams are unaccustomed to having defensive stands decide games, equally surprising was their method of operation with the ball.
With Jevon Elmore, one of the Whalers' top players and a defensive back who excels in coverage, sidelined with a leg injury, and with their receivers being tightly covered on the line, the Rams decided to take the ball out of quarterback Matt Milano's hands and rely on a running game that was largely untested but proved up to the task.
Kevin McDonough, one of the state's premier linebackers, carried the ball 22 times for 230 yards, with one touchdown and what proved to be the winning two-point conversion.
"I didn't know this was going to happen until the first series," McDonough said. "Normally they stack the box but they were helping out more in coverage. The linemen are the unsung heroes on this team. The holes that were there, anyone could have run through them. I don't think I've carried the ball this much since the 5th or 6th grade. It felt good."
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New Canaan finished with 343 yards rushing, while Milano had a very rare off night passing, going 9 of 27 for 82 yards and one touchdown pass, though he still ended up making a huge impact.
"It was nice to help out Matt since he always carries us," McDonough said. "That's what is great about this team, we pick each other up."
The fourth-seeded Whalers (9-2), whose only lead had been 6-0 following the game's opening drive, went ahead, 20-19, when Khaleed Fields got behind the defense and caught Robert Key's 20-yard pass with 6:43 remaining. Key then found Lamont Waites alone on the conversion for a 20-19 advantage.
Fitting for the theme of the night, Milano scored untouched on a 31-yard keeper and McDonough carried in the conversion for a 27-20 lead with 4:19 remaining.
Key hit Fields for a 40-yard gain with the Rams' Patrick Newton blanketing him, and then McKinnon, who had a sensational night, with 37 carries for 227 yards, scored his second touchdown.
But it was the final yard he needed most that proved elusive.
"I thought they were going to throw it," New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. "This game was a real chess match, but our kids really rose to the occasion again."
New London took a 6-0 lead on Kyle McKinnon's 4-yard touchdown run on its opening possession. McKinnon set up the score with a 36-yard run on a 3rd and 3.
The Rams came right back, using five straight runs before Milano hit Peter Kraus in the right corner of the end zone from 5 yards out on fourth down. McDonough had a 44-yard gain on a gutsy run call on a 3rd and 15.
After Newton made the first of two interceptions, the Rams again went to the ground, with McDonough carrying the ball five times, the last a 14-yard run up the middle for a 13-6 lead.
New Canaan ran the ball 22 times and passed it 20 times in the half. McDonough had 10 carries for 108 yards. The Rams had 170 yards rushing in the half.
The next time New Canaan got the ball back, Louis Hagopian's 42-yard run set up a 37-yard field goal by Collin Shapiro, which just cleared the crossbar, making the score 16-6 with 10:21 left in the half.
McDonough intercepted Key on the ensuing play, but Shapiro was wide right on a 38-yard field goal attempt.
New London needed just four plays to go 80 yards and score. McKinnon, who carried the ball 16 times for 124 yards in the half, had a 35-yard run, and Key hit Joe Garcia between two defenders from 41 yards out to cut the deficit to 16-12.
Milano was just 8 of 20 for 50 yards in the half.