It's not often that a team loses by 3 touchdowns but you actually come away impressed with the way they played. I guess this year's Pinkerton football team is just that good. Pinkerton is hands down the best team in the state this year, but on Saturday afternoon Manchester Central went on the road to Derry and played the Astros tougher than any other NH has so far this season. Exeter, South, Salem, BG. None of them gave Pinkerton as good a game as Central did on Saturday. Early in the 4th quarter it was just a 1 score game, with Pinkerton leading 35-28. They ended up winning it 49-28.
It definitely wasn't the Astros best game, and they were playing without one of their best players in Ryan Coombs. But you have to give the Little Green a lot of credit for the way they battled out there and never gave up, especially their quarterback Riley Cote who threw for 170 yards and 3 touchdowns (to 3 different receivers). It was a gutsy performance by Cote, who made some great throws and also came right back in the game after getting absolutely crushed by 2 Pinkerton defenders in the 2nd half.
Pinkerton's running game and special teams were the difference for them however, as the Astros improve to 8-1 on the season (7-0 in Division I). Kevin Davies (144 yards and 2 TD's on 15 carries) and Emmitt Smith (133 yards and 2 TD's on 15 carries) continue to form the best back field in the state, and in the 3rd quarter Smith and sophomore Manny Latimore both had 80 yard kickoff returns for TD's.
That really was the difference in the game. Davies and Smith were just too much too handle running the ball, and the kickoff returns were huge. Davies had a 49 yard run on the first drive of the game, which set the tone early. That set up a 4 yard TD run by QB Chris St. Onge on a bootleg play (St. Onge was also filling in for Coombs at DB). Pinkerton opened up a 21-0 lead with 4:39 left in the 2nd quarter following a pair of TD runs by Smith, who I have brilliantly nicknamed "Slippery Smith" because of his uncanny ability to wiggle his way out of tackles.
At that point it looked like this game was going to be another one of those Pinkerton blowouts we have seen so many times this season. Not only were the Astros up 21-0, but it could have been 28-0 but they turned the ball over on the Central 14 yard line on their second possession. Cody Desmarais was wide open running towards the end zone, but St. Onge was unable to get him the ball due to a strong pass rush by Central.
But you have to give Central a lot of credit, because even after they got off to a rocky start they hung in there, kept their heads up and made a nice comeback. After going down 21-0 the Little Green scored back-to-back touchdowns in the span of about 3 minutes, and went into halftime only down 21-14. On a big 3rd down and 5 play from the Pinkerton 8 yard line David Weekly ran in a TD right up the middle for Central's first score.
The ensuing kickoff was a squib kick and bounced towards Smith who was back to return the kick. He bobbled the ball though as he tried to pick it up. The ball squirted loose and was recovered by Central junior Andrew Slingsby on the Pinkerton 21 yard line. Astros head coach Brian O'Reilly was irate at the officials after the play, adamant that the Little Green had 12 players on the field so the play shouldn't have counted. The play stood however, and a couple plays later Cote threw a 7 yard TD pass to WR/DB Troy Pelletier (4 catches for 55 yards and a TD). Pelletier was wide open in the back corner of the end zone and did a nice job of keeping his feet in bounds while still making the catch.
The teams went back and forth, trading touchdowns in the 2nd half. Davies (who also made a number of big tackles on defense) ran in a TD from 4 yards out, capping a 12 play, 72 yard drive. Smith made a big run on 4th and 2 from the Central 9 yard line, gaining 5 yards and setting up the TD by Davies.
Central then answered back with a TD of their own. Sophomore running back Hector Velez made a big 10 yard run on 4th and inches to keep the drive going, then Cote found Pelletier down field for a 31 yard gain which set up 1st and goal on the Pinkerton 7. This was another play that had the Pinkerton coaching staff up in arms, as they felt Pelletier pushed off on the Astros DB to create separation in order to make the catch. Again, the play stood and then Cote found Jared Chandler in the corner of the end zone from 5 yards out for his second TD pass of the game. Cote almost got sacked on the play, but did a great job of scrambling away from the pass rush, setting his feet and delivering a great pass where only his man could make the catch.
The high scoring 3rd quarter continued, as this was when Pinkerton got their back-to-back 80 yard kickoff returns for TD's by Smith and Latimore (no, that's not the name of a law firm! I just googled it to make sure). On both returns Pinkerton got some good blocking which open up running room. On Smith's return he switched ends of the field in the middle of the run, going from the left sideline, getting a couple of blocks and then shifting all the way to the right sideline before running it in.
You simply cannot let these guys return kicks if you're playing against Pinkerton, you need to kick it in the end zone and if you're kicker can't kick that far then you need to do squib kicks. Smith and Latimore are just too dangerous, they must have at least 7 or 8 return TD's this season.
Sandwiched in between those 2 return TD's, Cote threw his third TD pass of the game, connecting with Junior Brown (10 catches for 111 yards and 1 TD) from 17 yards out. That score cut the Pinkerton lead to 35-28 with 9:29 left in the 4th quarter. I said earlier how it looked like this game looked like it was headed for Blowout City early on. Well, after Cote found Brown in the end zone and made it a 1 possession game in the 4th quarter Central had the momentum and it actually looked like they had a legit shot at winning this game. Like I said, they gave the Astros a better game than any other NH team has this year.
But unfortunately for the Little Green that's as close as they would get. Smith's return TD came on the ensuing kickoff, pushing the lead back up to 42-28. Again, you have to give Central credit because even after going back down by 2 scores and giving up back-to-back kickoff return touchdowns they just kept on fighting.
That's when Cote got hit hard by a pair of Pinkerton defenders. He had to leave the game, but only sat out for 1 play before coming back in (he's a tough kid!). He found Pelletier coming across the field on a big 4th and 4 play, but he was stopped just short of the 1st down for a turnover.
Central was still in the game, though. And they almost caught a BIG break on Pinkerton's next possession. Latimore fumbled the ball on his own 10 yard line. He was able to recover it however, but if Central had jumped on it it would have been a BIG break for them.
Still, the Astros had to punt the ball away, and Chandler was able to return the punt to the Pinkerton 35 yard line. There was still 3:27 left to play, still enough time for Central to score 2 TD's and either tie the game or take the lead. However, that's when senior defensive end Brett Liporto made his presence felt. Liporto was a menace rushing the passer from the edge, getting to the QB twice and forcing Cote to throw the ball away in order to avoid the sack. The second time Liporto did it came on 4th and long, with Cote being called for intentional grounding for a turnover on downs.
Davies then added a 10 yard TD with 1:03 left to ice the win for Pinkerton. The score was set up by a 23 yard run by Smith.
Tough loss for Central, they gave it all they had. In addition to the other players I've already mentioned, Malcolm Sutton really had a nice game on both sides of the football. He played his tail off all game long, made at least 10 tackles on defense and made some tough runs on offense (41 yards on 6 carries).
Also playing well for Pinkerton was sophomore linebacker Matt Madden and Alex Pacocha. In this game these 2 guys made some of the hardest hits I've seen all season, including one hit Pacocha made that knocked Pelletier out of the game for a few plays.
D-I Playoff Seedings Are Set
There won't be any drama in the last week of the regular season in Division I. We now know for sure what the playoff seedings are.
#1 seed Pinkerton
#2 seed Exeter
#3 seed Nashua South
#4 seed Salem
Salem is only a game ahead of Central and Memorial, but the Blue Devils beat both of those teams so even if they lose next week and Central or Memorial wins Salem will still get in. So the Blue Devils could actually make the playoffs with a 4-4 record although it's unlikely they'll lose to Londonderry next week).
Central misses the playoffs for the second straight year, even though right now they're actually playing better football than Salem. Why do I say that? Well look at the last 2 weeks. Central took Exeter down to the last few minutes before losing 28-14. This is the same Exeter team that DEMOLISHED both Salem and South in the last few weeks. And now this week Central gave Pinkerton a great game, trailing only by 1 score in the 4th quarter, and with 3 minutes left they still had a pretty good shot. That's MUCH better than South, Salem or Exeter were able to do against the mighty Astros.
Mr. Football is a 2 Man Race, and They're Both on the Same Team
There's still much football left to play played. The most important part of the season (the playoffs of course!) hasn't even happened yet. But as of right now, the 2011 NH Mr. Football Award is a 2 man race - between 2 teammates. Emmitt Smith and Kevin Davies have been hands down the 2 best players in the state this season. The other 2 candidate for the award are Salem's Jerickson Fedrick and South's Armond McRae. Fedrick has had some MONSTER games this season, but he has been held in check in games vs. top competition (Pinkerton, Exeter and South). McRae is a good candidate, but after the whooping Exeter just laid on South this weekend, it is obvious that Pinkerton and Exeter stand alone as the 2 best teams in the state so the award should go to someone from one of those 2 teams. Exeter though has a lot of REALLY good players, but they don't have 1 or 2 star players like teams like Pinkerton, South and Salem do. That leaves Davies and Smith. Both of them are great running backs, but they both also play 2 ways. Davies is also a fierce linebacker, while Smith is a dynamic return man who has scored TD's on punt/kickoff returns a number of times this season. They are both great players, and both so valuable to Pinkerton's team. There's no way you could say one is more valuable than the other, I say you should have co-Mr. Football winners!