It was a great night for a football game. Beautiful weather, a good crowd on hand at Dover's Dunaway Field and two teams that were amped up to get after it in week 1 of the season.
You never really know just what to expect in these cross-division games that don't count in the standings. Plus the fact that it's week 1 and it's even harder to handicap these games. Most people though would have had South as slight favorites on the road against Dover.
And in the 1st quarter at least that's just how this game played out. Coming up on two minutes to play in the opening stanza it was a 0-0 tie, with with the defenses dominating in the early going. Then the Purple Panthers scored 20 points in the next 5 minutes, as Division I Nashua South beat Division II Dover 37-20 on Friday night.
"The hardest thing about these games is the preparation" said Nashua South head coach Scott Knight, who coached the Purple Panthers to the D-I state title in 2008. "We knew these guys are usually pretty tough defensively, but other than that we didn't know anything about them, we didn't have any film on them because we haven't played them in 20 years. We were more prepared for some of our scrimmages than we were for this game."
That, along with the fact that they have a first-year starting quarterback in sophomore Trevor Knight (son of Coach Knight) would explain the slow start South had.
You also have to give credit to Dover's defense, which is once again a very strong unit. Don't let the 37 points that South scored confuse you. They only scored 30 of those points when the teams had their first stringers in. They scored two touchdowns on interceptions, they scored once after a roughing the kicker penalty gave them the ball on the Dover 30 yard line, and they scored another time when they recovered a fumble on the Dover 9.
The Green Wave defense was led by senior lineman Matt Brown, sophomore defensive back Eric Waddington, junior lineman Matt Dow and junior linebacker Eric Wilson. Dow made a big sack for a loss of 8 yards, and was effective all game rushing the passer and wreaking havoc in the South back field. Waddington had one of the biggest hits of the game on the last play of the 1st half, while Brown and Wilson are both good play makers and hard hitters.
Still, the story of the game was the 20 points in 5 minutes that South was able to score, as the game went from a 0-0 tie to South having complete control. Dover's strength is their defense, and offensively they run the ball and throw short screen passes - they're not the kind of team that is going to come back from 20 point leads very easily, especially against a Purple Panthers team that is as good as anyone in the state not named Pinkerton.
South got their first score with 2:11 left in the 1st quarter. After a nice hit and tackle by senior running back/safety Derek Paradis, Dover quarterback Tyler Zabkar threw the ball down field, only to have it be intercepted by senior defensive back Connor Rogowsky. Rogowsky ran the interception back 58 yards for the TD and a 6-0 South lead.
6'5" junior Mike LeBlanc then came in at quarterback for Dover, replacing 5'8" Zabkar who had just thrown his second interception (South's first interception was by junior linebacker Matt Deitrich). LeBlanc looked to pass and was forced out of the pocket by the South pass rush. He got hit by a South defender and fumbled the ball, only to have it recovered by the Purple Panthers on the Green Wave 9 yard line. A couple plays later senior running back/defensive back Armond McRae ran in a 2 yard touchdown, 13-0 South.
Minutes later South would score yet again. Dover junior tailback/defensive back Kyle Seawards made a nice 24 yard run. A couple plays later though, the Green Wave would once again fumble the ball, and it was once again recovered by South on their own 47 yard line. The Dover defense stepped up their game, forcing the Purple Panthers to punt. But coach Osbon's team was called for a roughing the kicker penalty, and instead of South punting the ball away to Dover, it was 1st and 10 South on the Dover 30 yard line. Paradis (who had 65 rushing yards and a TD) then ran burst through the middle of the Dover defense, broke a couple tackles and ran in a 30 yard score. 20-0 South.
The final TD that South scored when both teams had their first stringers in came on a 42 yard interception returned for a touchdown by McRae. McRae made a great run back, got to the 10 yard line where he had three Dover players waiting to try and tackle him. He then made one juke move, which left all three of them lying on the ground as he went in for the TD.
Dover offense struggled in this game, both with turnovers and being able to move the football. There's no question about that. Still, what is also clear is that the South defense is MUCH better than it has been in the last couple years. In addition to the strong play of McRae, Paradis and Rogowsky in the secondary and Deitrich at linebacker, the Purple Panthers also got dominating performances on the defensive line from seniors John Bieren and Julier Rivera. Over the last two years these guys have been able to put up points but have struggled to stop people from scoring. Now they can do both.
"We had a very good preseason defensively" said Coach Knight. "We have some talented kids on defense. Last year we switched up our schemes on that side of the ball, and they're now starting to get used to it."
Dover finally got on the board with 1:07 left in the 3rd quarter. Zabkar threw a 25 yard touchdown pass to senior split end Taylor Curry to cut the South lead to 20-6. It was a great drive by the Green Wave, as they started out on their own 22 yard line and had to convert a number of crucial 3rd and 4th down plays in order to keep it going. It was also big for team morale to score that TD after going down 20-0 and having so much struggles offensively to that point. Zabkar was in the while drive, and made some good throws and runs to move the chains. Junior split end Colin Shaughnessy and Seawards also made some big plays on the drive. On the touchdown pass to Curry, Zabkar made a perfect throw, hitting Curry right in stride. He had a very small window to fit the ball into, as South had excellent coverage on the play. It was a great throw, and a great catch by Curry to haul it in for the score.
Still, it was too little too late for Dover. South would add a 26 yard field goal by senior kicker Chris Dennis, followed by the INT returned for TD by McRae to make it 30-6 Purple Panthers. Both teams then took out their first stringers.
It probably would have been a different game if not for the turnovers and penalties by Dover. But the bottom line is, Dover made those mistakes and South did not. On this night they were the better football team, no question.
South takes on Pinkerton next weekend in a game which, for now at least, looks like a match-up of the two best teams in Division I.