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This game, 20 years later, is still my favorite

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published November 06. 2013 4:00AM

Under the category of "it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it" comes my existence. I watch games for a living. I know. Hardship. Especially when I'm trying to remember certain details. Time's passage turns all the games into the beginning of a marathon. Everything runs together.

So, too, I imagine, have some details of Nov. 6, 1993. But not all of them. And for some of us, not even all the days, months, years and moments that have passed to outline the last 20 years could derail the shapes and forms of a seminal day in the lore and legend of this corner of the world.

Today is the 20-year anniversary of my favorite game ever. The greatest high school football game ever played within the Eastern Connecticut Conference. It was a cold, gray, surly November Saturday afternoon, back when they actually played on Saturday afternoon, that Ledyard outlasted Fitch, 46-40.

There were 5,000 fans at Dorr Field that day. Ledyard needed the game to stay unbeaten. Fitch, recently awakened under new coach Mike Emery, offered a primer of its dominance of the sport around here over the next 10 years.

Here's the game it was: You wanted to say you were there, even if you weren't.

Emery and former Ledyard coach Bill Mignault, somewhat eerily, had the same initial thought when asked for the recollections a few days ago.

Mignault: "If you look at the score, you'd think there wasn't much defense that day. But there was great defense played that day."

Emery: "If you look at the score, you'd have thought nobody played defense. There was a lot of great offense over and over again. Both teams had great defenses."

Some context: Fitch lost the week before to Waterford, quelling some of the hype. And there was hype. Ledyard was a developing story throughout the region and the state because it hadn't been beaten. As Calvin McCoy, a Fitch receiver and now a personal trainer in the region said Tuesday, "we were talking that week that if we hadn't lost to Waterford, there might have been 10,000 people there."

Still, Fitch had a 34-20 lead early in the third period. This was news. Ledyard, which would go on to be the undefeated state champion and finish behind only the Steve Addazio-coached undefeated Cheshire dynasty in the polls, was cutting swaths through its opponents. Then came adversity Saturday.

Early in the third period, Gary Pendleton, who would later make the play of the game and the season, fumbled a kickoff, the victim of Ian Young's jolt. Khamisi Goode recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown and Fitch had a 14-point lead in front of more people than anyone had ever seen.

You rarely hear the roar of a high school crowd. I remember thinking that I was in Texas, if even for a brief moment.

Ledyard's next possession changed its history. It was third down and 25. Plenty of time left, sure. But the emotion of the day suggested that if Fitch held, Ledyard's will might have been broken. Fitch played with great swagger that day.

Except that quarterback Tom Bingham - ironically an assistant coach at Fitch now - threw one up to Pendleton, who went between defenders and caught it for the first down. Good defense. Great catch.

"After Gary got hit hard on the fumble, we weren't sure he'd ever go back into the game," Mignault said. "He kept saying, 'I'm fine, I'm fine.' I kept saying 'not until the doctor says so.'"

Ledyard eventually scored. The Colonels were down eight with 10 minutes left and tied it with a touchdown and Joe Jones' two-point conversion. Ledyard scored late again and pounced on a fumble with Fitch driving to end it.

A few weeks later, Ledyard throttled Guilford in the state championship game. Quote of the night came from Ledyard senior Sean Lowe: "Fitch is way better than these guys."

The participants still talk about the game today. Pendleton plays flag football with some Fitch guys and has forever bragging rights. Even during a wake last year in Mystic, several former Ledyard players gathered at the Harp & Hound and wound up reliving one of the greatest experiences of their lives.

I've often thought about doing a top 10 list of games around here in my now 23 years. But I know which would be No. 1. Perhaps some old timers could think of a better game than this one back in the day. That's why sports are fun. But for me, there's Nov. 6, 1993 … and then there's everything else.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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