Friday, October 29, 2010

Kearsarge Over St. Thomas in Game of the Year

This game had A LOT of hype and buildup going in. It lived up to the hype and then some. On Friday night in North Sutton, Kearsarge prevailed over St. Thomas 37-36 in triple overtime in a battle of unbeaten teams in Division V.

Sam Morgan kicked the game winning extra point in the 3rd OT, and the Cougars finish the regular season a perfect 9-0. St. Thomas came back from a 14-0 2nd half deficit, and actually led twice in overtime but they end up losing in a heartbreaker to finish the regular season at 8-1.

This was a game for the ages, and one that everyone in attendance at Kearsarge High tonight will never forget. Here's the complete recap of this instant classic.

One Special Evening
Amazing atmosphere. A packed house, with as many fans at a game as you will see all year. Kearsarge had a rowdy and supporting fan section, with cow bells ringing all game long. Before the game there was a spine chilling senior night ceremony where Kearsarge honored the 8 seniors on the roster but also head coach Dennis Hoffman who is coaching his final season at the school. Hoffman started the school's football program back in 1994 and has been the head coach ever since.

As for the game itself: every single player who played in that game should be proud of themselves. Kearsarge might be the only team that comes out of it with a "W" in the standings, but both teams, and every kid who played in that game to me is a winner. They all displayed tremendous pride, effort, heart, passion and skill. The players on both squads battled for every yard, on every possession. Every kid who played in this game left everything they had out on the field. It was a GREAT night for NH football. But don't just take my word for it. Here's what the players and coaches had to say.

"It doesn't get much better than this"
-St. Thomas head coach Rod Wotton.

"It's the best feeling in the world"
-Kearsarge senior RB/DB/K Sam Morgan

"It's the best game I've ever played in"
-Kearsarge senior QB/LB Doug Gregory

First Half Dominated by Cougars
The first half was all Kearsarge, as they took a 14-0 lead into the break. The way this game was built up was like these were two evenly matched teams, but it didn't seem that way during the first 2 quarters.

St. Thomas turned the ball over 4 times in the first half, and 2 of those turnovers directly led to Kearsarge touchdowns. The St. Thomas defense was actually very good, especially the front four of Jack Pearl, Tom Baxter, Brett Lago and Sam Truslow (all four are seniors). Senior defensive back Jacob Hewitt also did a nice job defensively all game long, with some big tackles in good pass coverage. The Cougars got 2 TD's in the half, but they were both made possible by the STA turnovers.

The turnovers hurt the Saints, and for the Cougars Doug Gregory showed why many believe he is the best player in Division V.

The game was scoreless for the entire 1st quarter, as it was defensive battle early on. Both teams were hurt by penalties on offense, but overall the defenses were flat out overpowering the offenses.

Late in the 1st quarter STA had the ball deep in their own end. Junior Andrew St. Louis and senior Jeremy Powers teamed up for a nice tackle for a loss of yards to push the Saints back even further. Then St. Thomas fumbled, and it was recovered by sophomore Jordan Barthol on the STA 14 yard line. A couple plays later Gregory kept it himself and ran in the 8 yard touchdown for the game's first score. he Cougars went for the 2 point conversion, but Gregory's pass was intercepted by Saints QB/DB/Punter Jack MacNevin.

Later in the 2nd quarter another St. Thomas penalty came back to haunt them. After Kearsarge linebacker Jacob Jones came up with a big sack, Morgan intercepted St. Thomas QB Scott Monroe and ran it all the way to the Saint's 42 yard line. Kearsarge committed a penalty at the end of the run-back, so now they took over at the STA 47. That's when Gregory aired it out downfield to a wide open Parker Hansen, who caught it at the 10 and then ran in the 47 yard touchdown reception. Even though Hansen was wide open it was an excellent throw by Gregory, who showed good arm strength to be able to throw it 40 yards in the air right on target. Hansen showed good speed to be able to break away from his defender. Senior RB/DB Jake McCabe (pictured above) ran in the 2 point conversion, and it was 14-0 Kearsarge.

On the ensuing STA possession lineman Robert Ramirez and St. Louis combined for a big tackle for the Cougars. MacNevin then nearly threw an interception. St. Thomas was forced to punt, and on their next possession they tried a half back pass play, but the pass by David Tovey (65 yards rushing on the game) was intercepted by Kearsarge DB Oliver Gallo.

At this point all of the momentum was on the Kearsarge sideline. They clearly looked like the better football team.

2nd Half Comeback for Saints
That would all change in the 2nd half, however. St. Thomas came back onto the field in the 2nd half as a different football team. They continued to impress defensively, and they started to really click offensively. The Saints came out with a sense of urgency in the 2nd half. Kearsarge didn't back down either, and it all made for some outstanding high school football.

STA had the ball first in the 3rd quarter, and immediately started to play "St. Thomas football." The drive lasted for just under SEVEN MINUTES, and ended with a 1 yard touchdown run by senior fullback Nick Hutchings. The key play that led to the score was a 4th down and 5 play on the Kearsarge 37. Hutchings came up with a BI 9 yard run on the play and a 1st down. Austin Monette then had a big 12 yard run of his own which made it 1st and goal on the 3 yard line. The extra point was good and it was 14-7 Kearsarge with 5:17 left in the 3rd.

Kearsarge got the ball back trying to answer the STA score. After yet another nice hit by Truslow, MacNevin intercepted a Gregory pass and returned it all the way to the Cougars 42 yard line. On the very next play from scrimmage MacNevin made an excellent pass downfield to receiver Yannick Rasmussen for the 42 yard touchdown. The extra point was good once again, and just like that we were all tied up 14-14 with 3:55 left in the 3rd quarter.

Both teams had chances to go ahead late in regulation. On the next Kearsarge possession after STA tied it up, the Cougars advanced into Saints territory. Gregory ran it up the middle for good yardage when the ball popped out of his hands for a fumbled and it was then caught in mid-air by MacNevin for the fumble recovery.

St. Thomas then had a chance to take the lead, and started the drive already in the Kearsarge end. Lago made a big 18 yard run. Then on a crucial 4th and 2 play on the 28, it was Lago again who delivered, running for 5 yards and the 1st down. After a nice hard hit by Gallo it was once again a BIG 4th down conversion attempt for STA. It was 4th and a 1/2 yard on the Kearsarge 14 yard line. MacNevin went for the QB sneak, but he was taken down by sophomore linebacker Matt Gambino who made a huge tackle for no gain on the player and a turnover on downs for the Saints.

2 more interceptions happened in the 4th quarter, costing both teams a chance to take the lead. Morgan intercepted a pass for the Cougars, and senior Dustin Kaubris came away with a pick for the Saints. McCabe also NEARLY intercepted a pass by Munroe with under a minute left in the 4th quarter. He had nobody in front of him either, so if McCabe made the catch he would have had an easy touchdown and it would have been over right there. Instead it only added more drama to this sensational contest.

Both Teams With Superb Play Calling and Execution in OT
St. Thomas had the ball first to begin overtime. After yet another nice tackle by St. Louis, MacNevin found Rasmussen for his 2nd TD catch of the game from 9 yards out. Tovey ran in the 2 point conversion, and STA was up 22-14 for its first lead of the game.

Kearsarge now had to score a TD AND get the 2 point conversion otherwise the Saints were the winners. That's when Gregory ran the option and pitched it over to McCabe. He ran in the 10 yard touchdown. They needed the 2 point conversion to force a 2nd overtime, and they got it. The Cougars ran a HB pass play, and McCabe found Morgan in the back right corner of the end zone. We were all tied up at 22-22 and headed for a 2nd OT.

In the 2nd OT Kearsarge had the ball first. Gregory rolled right and found Morgan for a 6 yard TD pass. It was Morgan's 2nd TD catch in the span of about 2 minutes! The 2 point conversion was also good, as Gregory threw it this time to Mccabe for the score. It was 30-22 Kearsarge.

Now the shoe was on the other foot, as St. Thomas needed a TD and a 2 point conversion to stay alive. It was 4th and goal on the 2 yard line when Tovey ran in the 2 yard touchdown for the Saints. On the 2 point conversion attempt, MacNevin faked the hand-off, and ran the bootleg off to the left side of the field for the score. It was all tied up at 30-30, and we were headed for a 3rd overtime! What a game!!

In the 3rd overtime St. Thomas had the ball first. Lago ran it for 5 yards, and a facemask penalty on Kearsarge put the ball on the 1 yard line. Hutchings ran it in from there and STA was up 36-30. They went for 2, but the conversion attempt was no good as the Saint's running play was stuffed just short of the goal line.

"We only missed it by THAT much" explained Coach Wotton.

So now it was Kearsarge ball. All they needed was a touchdown and an extra point to win the game. On the very first play of the possession Barthol ran in a 10 yard touchdown to tie it up at 36-36. All the Cougars needed now was an extra point and they had the win. Morgan lined up to attempt the kick. The snap was good, the hold was good, and the kick was too. Right through the uprights, and Kearsarge wins it 37-36 in triple overtime!

It was the game of the year, and the Cougars win it...pandemonium in North Sutton!

Gregory = Never Satisfied
Kearsarge senior QB/LB Doug Gregory had an outstanding game. He was excellent on both sides of the ball. He either threw or ran for every touchdown the Cougars scored. And he made a number of great plays defensively as well.

What was most impressive about his night didn't come until after the game though. I asked him to pinpoint one single play from this amazing game that he will remember the most when he thinks back to this game.

"There are 2 of them" Gregory explained, without even having to think about his answer first. "The two interceptions I threw in the 2nd half that got them back in the game."

Amazing. This kid just played his tail off, playing nearly every down of a triple overtime game. He had a great game, and led his team to one of the biggest win's in school history. But the two plays that he'll remember most are the 2 mistakes that he made. That folks is what separates the good players from the great ones. The great ones are NEVER SATISFIED. They feel like they could always do something better.

Hearing Gregory say this reminded me of the first week of this 2010 high school football season. Bishop Guertin's Mike Kelly just amassed over 300 total yards and scored 5 touchdowns in the teams 48-21 win over Salem. One of the best single games by a NH player in recent memory. And after the game all he had to say was how there was still cut-backs he could have made, and tackles on defense he didn't wrap up. He
said he was going to look at the film to see what he could do better next time.

Doug Gregory from Kearsarge and Mike Kelly from BG both showed why they are special players. Because they're NEVER SATISFIED. Hearing both players talk like this after these games was refreshing to hear.

Rematch on November 13?
The Division V playoffs are set. Next Saturday at 1 PM it's #1 seed Kearsarge hosting #4 seed Somersworth. Meanwhile #2 seed St. Thomas will host #3 seed Stevens. The winners of the two semi-final games will meet on November 13 in the D-V title game with the higher seed being the home team. Most everyone in the state (including yours truly) full expects a rematch between St. Thomas and Kearsarge in the championship game.

"We'll be back in 2 weeks" said St. Thomas coach Rod Wotton confidently.


  1. As good of a high school football game I have ever witnessed. Hopefully we will see the sequel in 2 weeks. Both teams left nothing in the tank and both have to be very careful of let downs this week. Both Stevens and Sommersworth are good teams very capable of upsets! It would be a shame not to see these two in the finals but in high school football anything can happen!

    Coach Wooten and coach Hoffman had to empty their play books trying to pull out a victory! These are two crafty veteran coaches who will have to call on their years of experience to come up with a game plan in the rematch! On paper these two teams are dead even. I don't know if it is possible to duplicate the drama of game one. But one thing is guarnteed, who ever comes out on top will have trully earned the label of state champion and they will have the utmost respect of their opponent. This is what high school sports is all about. I can't wait for a final that these young men will be able to carry with them for a lifetime!

  2. This has to be one of the best articles written about a high school football game..and what a game it was...!! Your article captured the spirit of the night!

    have couple of technical corrections:

    "Matt" Gambino should read Ben Gambino

    Jordan Barthol (soph) caught the 2nd OT pass not Jake Mc Cabe

    other than that..fantastic article

    Coach B
    Greg Barthol

  3. Jeremy, good job covering this game. Other media outlets like Channel 9, The Portsmouth Herald and Fosters didn't do a good jiob on covering it at all and they really missed the boat on this one big time. The papers did a good job with their previews but that's it. This game will go down as one of the greatest HS football games ever in NH. It was simply incredible. I thought that the keys to the turn around was Austin Monette's 12 yard run on 3rd and 8 on that first drive to start the 3rd quarter. Then he made that run to the 4 yard line and the momemtum changed from there no question. All STA players played their best with the exception of the turnovers in the first half. Kearsarge is a very good, tough team. The rematch will be exciting to see. These two teams are by far the class on the division. They could both play in higher divisions with the current teams that they have now. STA was missing a key player who is a sparkplug for them but he will return for the rematch. You couldn't of asked for a more exciting game. Simply awesome. Thanks for covering it.
    THe Big Show.