Sunday, October 30, 2011

STA Stays Unbeaten, Beats Kearsarge in 'Snow Bowl 2011'

If you like football in the snow, you would have loved Saturday's Division V tilt between St. Thomas and Kearsarge. It was snowing all game long, and by the 2nd half you couldn't see the lines or numbers on the field. Luckily the game was played at Exeter's Eustis Field, which has astro turf and made it a lot easier for this game to be played.

As for the game itself, it was a rematch of last year's D-V title game, a possible preview of this year's D-V title game, a match up of 2 first year head coaches (STA's Eric Cumba and Zach Matthews for Kearsarge) and a match up of 2 of the fastest players not only in D-V but in the entire state (STA's Ryan Monette and 100 meter champion Parker Hansen from Kearsarge).

The field conditions made it VERY difficult for either team to use their speed, though. STA runs a spread offense and like to throw the ball around and use their speed, so the snow really hurt them. Still, the Saints made more plays and were able to hang on for a 13-6 win to end the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record.

Weather Was a Factor
Kearsarge snapped the ball over their punter's head and also had a snap go over their place kicker's head as well on a PAT, St. Thomas fumbled the ball into the end zone, Hayden Middleton missed his first field goal of the season (but to his credit he did make 2 other FG's), Hansen stepped out of bounds because the snow was covering the whole field so no one could see where the sideline was (he would have scored a TD but instead the officials said he stepped out around the 25 yard line). There was a total of 7 fumbles in this game.

The weather took St. Thomas out of their game, making it hard for them to spread the field and throw the ball around and use their speed. Still, Ryan Monette (96 yards on 20 carries) and David Rogers (55 yards on 12 carries) were able to break some good runs to break some tackles and move the chains.

The STA passing game was limited though, which is why it's ironic that their biggest play on offense came through the air. The Saints broke a scoreless tie, as QB Scott Munroe threw a screen pass to Andrew Kahr, who ran it right up the middle of the field and ran in a touchdown from 49 yards out. Kahr also made a 21 yard catch later and came up with some big tackles on defense as well.

Kearsarge meanwhile didn't have to change too much offensively. They're a run it up the gut and off tackle kind of team, and that's exactly what they did in this game. Oliver Gallo (87 yards on 11 carries), Eric Hauck (51 yards on 9 carries), Parker Hansen (43 yards on 3 carries) and Jacob Jones (26 yards on 9 carries) and Jordan Barthol (26 yards on 2 carries) led the way for the Cougars, who showed they have a lot of guys who can run the football.

Defense Dominated
Overall though, STA did do a nice job of stopping the run. Joe Polychronis, Peter Yarosewick, Tom Cifrino, Jesse Ware, Ryan Geppert, Sam Quirk and Jared Dickie all had big games for the Saints defense.

They might not have been quite as good as STA's defense, but the Kearsarge defense was also very good. Hansen, Barthol, Andrew St. Louis and Ben Gambino all made some hard hits and rushed the passer effectively.

Middleton Continues to Shine
Middleton made field goals from 29 and 28 yards, was 1/1 on extra points. Not only is he one of the state's best kickers (as a sophomore) but he also did a great job punting. In a game like this, field position was especially important. Given the weather it is not easy to smoothly handle snaps or punt the ball very far, but Middleton was able to do both, which gave the Saints an advantage on special teams. His second FG gave STA a 13-0 lead with 7:03 left in the 4th quarter.

Kearsarge Made it Interesting at the End
With how much Kearsarge had been struggling to score points in the game's first 3 quarters, the 13 point 4th quarter deficit probably felt more like 30. But you have to give them credit, because they ended up taking St. Thomas down to the game's final minute.

On their next drive after going down 13-0 is when Hansen got the ball to the outside and was off to the races. Like I mentioned earlier, he would have scored a TD on that play but stepped out of bounds (only because the sideline was covered with snow). Just a couple plays later though, Barthol ran in a 22 yard touchdown to make it 13-6 with 5:38 left to play. On the PAT the snap sailed over the holder's head and freshman kicker Justin Fernandez was unable to get a kick off.

Now it was time for an onside kick attempt by the Cougars. Fernandez kicked the ball straight ahead, and players from both teams dove for the ball. It looked like Kearsarge recovered it, but they were called for an illegal touching penalty. St. Thomas got the possession, but after a nice tackle by Barthol they were forced to punt. The snap on the punt was mishandled by Middleton though, and Kearsarge recovered the fumble on midfield.

There was 2:20 left to play, enough time for the Cougars to tie the game up with a TD and PAT or take the lead with a 2 point conversion. They needed a couple of big plays to make it happen though, and that's what they got when Gallo ran for 20 yards, followed by a 15 yard carry by Hansen. They were then able to advance the ball all the way to the STA 10 yard line. Both teams were laying it all on the line and you could feel the intensity. The game was on the line right here.

That's when the St. Thomas defense stepped up. Kearsarge ran a sweep play for Hansen, who was then tackled for a loss on the play by Geppert and Dickie. That brought up 4th down and 12 for Kearsarge on the STA 17 yard line - this play would decide the game. Cougars QB Peter Allen dropped back to pass, but his pass towards the end zone fell incomplete. Turnover on downs. Game over.

Game Ended Just in Time!
Literally as soon as the game ended, the power went out at the stadium. The scoreboard went off, the stadium lights (which were turned on because it was dark out) went off, all of the electricity in the press box ceased to function, etc. The game ended just in time. Just imagine if the power went out right as the ball was being snapped on that big 4th down play for Kearsarge at the end of the game!

D-V Playoff Picture
With the win, St. Thomas clinches the #1 seed in the Division V playoffs. Kearsarge will be the #2 seed, because even though them and Windham are both 7-2, Kearsarge won the head-to-head meeting between the 2 teams, so Windham will be the #3 seed and play at Kearsarge in the semi-finals. The #4 seed will be either Somersworth or Bow. Somersworth will have to finish their game with Stevens that they weren't able to finish earlier in the season. If Somersworth wins that game they are in, if they lose they are out, and Bow will get in (since Bow beat Somersworth head-to-head). Whoever it is, they will be playing at St. Thomas next Saturday in the other semi-final.

St. Thomas and Kearsarge will definitely be favored to make it to the championship game, but that's not a certainty. Windham gave both of those teams a tough game in the regular season, while Somersworth beat Kearsarge and came THIS close to beating STA during the season (Bow of course beat Somersworth). So these teams are all pretty good, which will make the D-V playoffs VERY fun to watch!

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