Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kearsarge Over Campbell in Double-OT Thriller


With high school football games, some of them are blowouts where one team simply crushes the other one. Some of them are good, close games but aren't really memorable in any way. Then there's games that are special, games that people will still be talking about 20 or 30 years from now - Saturday afternoon's Division V contest between Kearsarge and Campbell (who both share the nickname of Cougars)will go down as one of those games.

This game had more drama than a soap opera, it had more peaks and valleys than the Grand Canyon, and it had more twists and turns than a Quentin Tarantino film. There was back-to-back penalties which together moved the football 50 yards. There were fumbles, blocked field goals, injuries, missed extra points, heroic touchdown runs and more.

In the second overtime, Jacob Jones ran in a touchdown from 2 yards out to give Kearsarge a 26-20 win, as Kearsarge improved to 4-1 on the season.

"I scored the game-winner on a wedge play, I was just looking for a little push up the middle so I could get in there" said Jones, who ran for 76 yards and 2 TD's on the game. "It was a great game, one of the closest games I've ever played in."


Kearsarge No Stranger to Wild, Marathon Games
It was just under a year ago when Kearsarge played in a triple-overtime classic vs. St. Thomas. That was a game between HANDS down the 2 best teams in D-V, with Kearsarge winning it and going on to an undefeated season that saw them beat that same St. Thomas team in the title game just a few weeks later.

"Our team has played in these types of games before" said Kearsarge first-year head coach Zach Matthews, who takes over for Dennis Hoffman, the school's one and only head coach prior to this season. "They knew what to expect after playing in games like this in the past."


Jones Steps Up for Injured Gallo
Jacob Jones had a big game for Kearsarge, including the game-winning TD. He did a great job of filling in for Oliver Gallo, the team's starting tailback. Gallo is one of the state's leading rushers, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the 1st half and did not return. Before leaving the game Gallo had 29 yards on 8 carries, and 1 catch for 18 yards.

"Oliver will be fine for next week's game, it's not too serious" said Coach Matthews. "But he injured his shoulder, and I have 4 backs I feel comfortable giving the ball to so we took him out to not risk it."

Jones made a number of tough runs for big yardage as the game went on. He's a power runner who was able to run through defenders and also showed good speed in the open field.


2 Big Plays Summarized 1st Half
For the most part, the 1st half of this game was played with very little fanfare. There was a whole lot of 3 yard runs and punting going on. But at halftime the game was all tied up 7-7, and the 2 plays that led to those scores are the 2 plays that can summarize what happened in the 1st half of this game.

The first big play came on Kearsarge's first drive. Senior Parker Hansen took the hand off, gained the outside edge on the left side of the field and was off to the races. He ran 60 yards for the TD to put Kearsarge up 6-0. Hansen was the 100 meters champion for the entire state last spring, and was even faster than guys like Emmitt Smith (finished second to Hansen), Tolbert Nemo (finished 5th) and Armond McRae (finished 8th). So when he was able to get past that first line of Campbell defenders there was no stopping him on his way to the end zone.

Kearsarge freshman kicker Justin Fernandez made the extra point to make it 7-0 Kearsarge with 7:01 left in the 1st quarter. The score remained that way until there was less than 2 minutes left in the 1st half. Nothing was going right for Campbell so far, yet they were still only down 7-0. Then senior RB/LB John Houston picked off a pass thrown by Kearsarge QB Peter Allen and ran it 25 yards for the touchdown. And just like that it was all tied up at 7-7 following the point after. The play really got Campbell's team and their fans fired up.

Houston ran the ball for 62 yards, scored 3 touchdowns, intercepted a pass and also made a number of bone-jarring hits from his linebacker position.

"John's a great player" said Campbell head coach Marc Prindiville. "I'm proud of our whole team today, but Houston is just an animal out there."

Also in the 1st half, Hansen and Andrew St. Louis made big sacks defensively for Kearsarge, while Campbell's Dan Simard had one of his own. Kearsarge faked a punt on 4th and 11, with Allen running for 10 yards before coming up just short of the 1st down. Allen also intercepted a pass on defense, and Campbell's Dan Driscoll intercepted a pass on his own 3 yard line, with just 3 seconds left in the half. That's right, both QB's in this game intercepted passes on defense - in the same half!


Wild 2nd Half
Things got even more wild in the 2nd half. After a big sack by Campbell senior Aaron Repole on 4th down and 8 for Kearsarge at the Campbell 40 yard line, things got crazy for Campbell. Kearsarge now had the ball way back on their own 22 yard line, they completed a 13 yard screen pass, and at the end of the play Houston made a big time hit and tackle. The officials called a helmet-to-helmet penalty (very questionable call), and on the next play another penalty was called on Campbell which now moved the football all the way to the Campbell 25 yard line. Then a false start penalty was called on Kearsarge - their were flags everywhere! Once things finally got settled down, Jones ran the ball 30 yards for the TD. After the extra point it was 14-7 Kearsarge with 2:16 left in the 3rd quarter.

The score remained that way for the next several minutes, and Campbell continued to struggle on offense. Hansen and Jordan Barthol (who was terrific defensively all game) teamed up for a sack on a crucial 3rd and long play forcing Campbell to punt. It was one of 4 sacks on the day for the Kearsarge defense, with Hansen, Barthol and St. Louis doing most of the damage.

Give Campbell credit, though. As much as their offense was struggling, their defense kept them it and they never gave up and they never stopped fighting. They put together a great drive in the 4th quarter, including a spectacular run by sophomore play maker Jesiah Wade. Wade caught a short pass, bounced it to the outside, broke a bunch of tackles, showed some elusive moves in open space and gained 27 BIG yards down the right sideline. Wade (only a sophomore) also had plenty of tackles and big hits on defense. After a couple of Kearsarge penalties and some good running by Houston and Dylan Andrews, Campbell was able to get the ball to the Kearsarge 17 yard line. There was 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter, yet it was the first time all game Campbell's offense had been inside the Kearsarge 20 yard line. That's when Houston broke through the middle of the defense and ran in a 17 yard touchdown. The extra point was good (just barely) and we were all tied up 14-14 with 5:57 left in the 4th quarter.

Both teams had one more possession in regulation to try and win it. Campbell came up with a big defensive stand, forcing Kearsarge to punt. Then Campbell again put together a gutsy drive, advancing all the way to the Kearsarge 19 yard line. Then it was 4th down, and there was only 7 seconds left on the clock. Campbell kicker Tyler Guarino came in to attempt a 36 yard field goal with a chance to win the game. Who would have thought that after Kearsarge had led all game and at times dominated that it would actually be Campbell getting a shot to win it with a last second field goal? But it wasn't meant to be. Kearsarge was able to get a good push through the Campbell line, and the kick was blocked by a slew of Kearsarge defenders. We were headed to overtime in Litchfield!

"He hadn't missed a kick all year until that one" lamented Coach Prindiville about his junior kicker. "So I felt good about our chances there. Unfortunately they just blocked it."


Kearsarge Made More Plays in OT
In overtime games it often comes down to which team is deeper, more conditioned and has better stamina to be able to keep making plays after such a long, hard fought game. That certainly played a role in this one as well. Campbell has 10 2-way players and despite the injury to Gallo Kearsarge was still a deeper squad.

The first overtime began eerily similar to the way Kearsarge's first drive of the game did - with one of their RB's running the ball to the outside and scoring a touchdown, going virtually untouched by a Campbell defender, as Eric Hauck scored from 10 yards out to put Kearsarge up 20-14. They went for a 2 point conversion, but were stopped just short of the goal line.

That gave Campbell the football, and if they could get a TD and extra point they would win. But if they failed to score they would lose. A lot of drama was built up, as Campbell had a BIG 4th down and goal play from the 2 yard line. The crowd got into it, and you could feel the excitement on the field and in the stands. Houston then pounded it in from 2 yards out for the score to tie it back up at 20-20. At the end of regulation Campbell missed a FG that would have won them the game, now they had a chance to win it with an extra point. But once again it was no good, as Guarino's kick sailed wide left. We were headed for a second overtime!

In the second OT it was Campbell who got the ball first. However it was again the combination of Hansen and Barthol who wreaked havoc defensively. Barthol made a great open field tackle, and then on 4th down Hansen rushed Driscoll out of the pocket and made the sack. Campbell failed to score on their possession, so now all Kearsarge needed on their next possession would be a TD or a FG and they would win.

That's when Jones came up big. He ran for 8 yards on 1st down, which meant Kearsarge had 3 plays to try and score from 2 yards out - it was a BIG 1st down run by Jones. Kearsarge wouldn't need 3 more plays though, as Jones ran in the game-winning TD on the very next play.

When he scored, Kearsarge stormed the field in celebration. Meanwhile Campbell had just lost a heart-breaker. It was a great game, one that neither team deserved to lose, as both teams played their hearts out and left it all out on the field. Nobody who was in attendance will forget that game for a LONG time.

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