Saturday, November 20, 2010

Souhegan Wins 3rd Straight D-III Title 24-21 Over Portsmouth

Senior QB Mike Luks led the way for Souhegan, running for the game-winning 3 yard touchdown with just 52.1 seconds left. The Saber defense held the high powered Portsmouth offense to just 7 2nd half points, as Souhegan defeats Portsmouth 24-21 for the 3rd consecutive Division III state championship on Saturday afternoon in Amherst.

Here's the full recap of this classic.

Special Afternoon in Amherst
This was one of the most exciting, well played title games in recent memory, especially in D-III. Both teams left everything they had out on the field, and both teams played with a lot of heart. A huge comeback win for Souhegan, and a tough, heartbreaking loss for Portsmouth. Both squads played like champions. Every kid who played in this game should hang their heads high and be proud. I feel grateful to have been there for such a great game.

"This win feels awesome" said Souhegan coach Mike Beliveau. "Our guys showed a lot of heart today."

Luks had incredible game to lead the Sabers to the win. He finished the game 27/40 for 265 passing yards and 2 TD's to go with 14 rushing yards and 1 rushing TD.

"It's a dream come true" Luks said. It just feels surreal right now. It hasn't really sunk in yet."

Both schools brought a lot of fans. It was a good crowd, and a great day for football. Music was playing during timeouts all afternoon. Souhegan's band was out in full force. It was a GREAT atmosphere.

Game-winning Touchdown Drive
Souhegan had the ball, down 21-16 to Portsmouth with just 5:02 left in the 4th quarter. And they were way back on their own 16 yard line. If the Sabers wanted to comeback and win it, they'd have to drive 84 yards in order to do it.

The drive was nearly over VERY fast. Luks dropped back, and threw an incomplete pass. It was broken up by WR/DB Sam Marousek, but they ball stayed up in the air to be possibly intercepted by another Portsmouth defender. Aidan O'Leary, Quinn McCann and Billy Hartmann are tipped the ball, and all nearly intercepted it but instead it fell incomplete.

Then it was 3rd and 10 for Souhegan on their own 33 yard line. That's when Luks found sophomore flanker Denny Desserault for a 10 yard completion which was just barely good enough for the 1st down. Then Matt Schagrin (8 catches for 77 yards, 22 yard field goal) made an outstanding catch along the Souhegan sideline. He was just barely able to stay in bounds while making the grab, and Luks put the ball where only his guy could make the play.

Next came possibly the play of the game. Souhegan was just barely inside Portsmouth territory and there was only 2:22 left in the game. Luks completed a pass to senior Nick Hession. The play was good for a 15 yard gain, but Hession was hit after making the catch and fumbled the ball. Portsmouth came THIS close to recovering it. There was a mad scramble with players from both teams diving for the football. But somehow it was the smallest player on the field, Desserault (he was quiet all game but made 3 BIG plays late) who came up with possession of the ball for the fumble recovery.

"My heart stopped on that play, it really did" explained a relieved Luks after the game. "We were fortunate to get the ball back. It could have ended right there."

Having just dodged a MAJOR bullet, Luks then continued to drive the Sabers down the field. And the clock continued to run. A couple plays later Souhegan was down to the Portsmouth 3 yard line with under a minute left. Luks ran in the 3 yard TD on a QB keeper right up the middle with 52.1 seconds left to put the Sabers ahead 22-21. Souhegan went for the 2 point conversion, and they ran a sweep play for Desserault who was coming in motion from the far side of the field. Desserault took the hand-off and ran right, finding the end zone and making it a 24-21 Souhegan lead.

Portsmouth's Last Chance
The Clippers got the ball back with 52.1 seconds left trailing 24-21. Portsmouth has a quick-strike, high-powered offense, so to them 52 seconds is an eternity. However Souhegan's defense stepped up in the 2nd half, only allowing 7 points and they stepped on this drive as well.

Clippers QB Quinn McCann (who threw for 270 yards on the day) had nowhere to throw the ball. One one play during the game's final moments he was sacked by senior DE Brendan McKenna (who also caught passes for 68 yards and 2 TD's) for a 6 yard loss.

With less than 28 seconds remaining it was 4th down and 16 for Portsmouth at their own 33 yard line. They still had a chance if they could get a 1st down here, as they would then have time for possibly 2 more plays after that. But they needed a 1st down on this play or the game was over. McCann completed a pass to Aidan O'Leary (who had 6 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown) but the pass was only good for 6 yards. Just as O'Leary was about to get hit he lateraled the ball back to junior flanker Bill Lane (65 total yards, 1 rushing TD and an interception on defense) but Lane was then immediately tackles far short of the 1st down marker. Turnover on downs.

Souhegan got the ball back with about 20 seconds left. Luks took a knee and the game was over.

Give Credit to Portsmouth
For the 3rd year in a row Portsmouth has lost to Souhegan in the D-III championship (they did beat the Sabers in the Class I boys basketball prelims last March though). This year was the Clipper's best chance to finally take down their nemesis from Amherst. And they VERY nearly did it.

McCann hooked up with O'Leary for a 79 yard bomb down the Souhegan sideline to tie the game up 7-7 early on. That didn't come until there was 1:45 left in the 1st quarter. Up until that point Souhegan was clearly the better team, but with that play Portsmouth made a statement that there were 2 teams in this game and they were both right in it.

After a 20 yard TD pass from McCann to Marousek (3 catches for 86 yards and a TD to go with about 10 tackles on defense) the Clippers led 14-7. That was the score at halftime.

And with under a minute left in the game Portsmouth led 21-16. They had this game right there in their grasp. Up until the game's final minute it really looked like they were going to pull off the upset. But it just didn't happen. Souhegan made more plays at the end when it mattered the most and got the win.

"My kids played their hearts out" said a disappointed Portsmouth coach Bill Murphy. "Quinn (McCann) played well, Sam (Marousek) played well. All of my kids gave it their all, but Souhegan was the better team today."

On the Sabers next drive they were forced to punt, but the snap went over the head of punter Schagrin. Portmsouth was then able to start their drive on the Souhegan 14 yard line.

Gutsy Win For Souhegan
This is their 3rd straight title, but this was by far the toughest. Give the Sabers credit for battling hard they trailed at the half. They trailed by 5 with under a minute left. They turned the ball over 5 times. They lost defensive back Terry Dugdale early on in the game with an injury. But they just kept battling, and they just kept fighting.

Not only did Dugdale get hurt, but Nick Kepka Calvetti did as well. Kepka Calvetti, (who ran a punt return back 78 yards for the touchdown but it was called back due to holding) left the game twice with injuries. But he kept coming back into the game, nothing could keep him down. Despite being banged up, Kepka Calvetti just kept going back in there, and just kept hitting people hard.

You have to also give Luks credit for the way he kept at it. Luks threw 2 interceptions, and he also fumbled the ball while trying to hand it off to Kepka Calvetti and he was sacked a couple of times. But that didn't stop him from continuing to fire the ball all over the field. Luks completed passes to not 1 but 8 receivers in this game (that's unheard of!).

Others Who Played Well
For Souhegan, sophomore lineman Jake Kennedy had a big game. He sacked McCann once, and also made some nice tackles and did a good job of rushing the passer. Junior FL/DB Chris Chininis had yet another big game. He made 6 catches for 53 yards, he had a 40 yard punt return to the Portsmouth 4 yard line which set up the field goal by Schagrin. Chininis was also very good on defense today, making a number of big plays in pass coverage.

For Portsmouth, I was once again impressed by the play of sophomore lineman Rick Holt. Between Kennedy and Holt you had a pair of sophomore linemen, 1 for each team, who are VERY good and went at it all game. Scary to think about the kind of beasts these guys will be in 2 years. Also playing well for the Clippers was senior linebacker John O'Keefe (big fumble recovery in the 1st half), and 2 other seniors who were solid all game in Riley McCarthy and Mitch McFarland.

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