Saturday was a great day for NH football. It was the East vs. West NH High School All-Star Game to benefit the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth (CHAD), and it was played at the University of New Hampshire’s Cowell Stadium.
Never before has there been so much football talent from the Granite State all playing in the same game. Over 70 of the top seniors from all across the state were recognized and got to play one more game representing their high school team. Not only that, but it was for a good cause – the event raised $301,000 to benefit CHAD.
As for the game itself, most people expected a close battle but it ended up being a blow out. The West team won in convincing fashion 44-12, behind big performances by a number of players but most notably Junior Brown from Manchester Central (who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player) and Nashua South’s Johnny Bieren.
“The game was secondary to the event” said Keith Jones, who is the Milford High football coach and was the head coach of the West team for this game. “It was more of a cause than a football game. Everyone involved did a great job running the event, and it is special to raise all that money for such a great cause. I feel privileged to be a part of it.”
The only way this day would have been better is if the game was more competitive. On paper it appeared as though the teams were evenly matched, but on the field the game was dominated by the West team. They were too fast, they executed better and they were a deeper team as well. They went up 37-6 in the 2nd quarter on a 50 yard touchdown pass from Codey Dalton (Manchester Memorial) to Junior Brown (Manchester Central) and the rout was on (pun intended).
The Manchester kids definitely made a statement in this game. Brown caught 4 passes for 87 yards and 3 TD’s, all in one half of football. He was simply too big, too fast, too athletic and too skilled for any of the DB’s covering him. Brown is undecided where he’ll be attending school in the fall, but there’s no doubt that he has the ability to play college football and at a high level. On the 50 yard bomb he was being double-covered but still ran past both defenders, creating a ton of separation. Still, it initially appeared as though the pass from Dalton was overthrown. But Brown turned on an extra gear to get to the ball and make the grab.
“Right when we broke the huddle I knew that was going to happen” explained Brown. “Their DB’s kept creeping up so we knew had to throw it deep.”
On the play right before that Dalton found Jared Chandler (Manchester Central) on a slant pattern for a 20 yard gain. So the West team gained 70 yards on 2 plays, and they did it with receivers who just too fast for the East team to contain.
Chandler also rushed for 35 yards, had 22 punt return yards and also made 4 tackles on defense. Dalton and Aaron Martin (Manchester West) formed a dominant 1-2 punch at the quarterback position. Dalton passed for 82 yards and a TD and also gained 40 yards on 5 carries. Martin threw for 63 yards and 2 TD’s, plus 4 rushes for 51 yards and a rushing TD. Both of these guys showed the ability to make plays with their arm or legs. The West team had a definite advantage at the quarterback position, and that was a big factor in this game.
Overall though the Queen City connection was the story of this game. The Trinity duo of Andrew Lauderdale (who will be playing his college football at UNH on the same field this game was played on) and Josh Hughes also made an impact. Lauderdale is a BIG target and used his size and speed to haul in 2 catches for 26 yards, while Hughes rushed for 38 yards on just 3 carries. Additionally, Stephen Grzywacz (Manchester Central) was a perfect 6/6 on PAT’s and averaged 50 yards on his kickoffs.
“Manchester runs this” said Brown. “We all grow up playing together. It feels good to give back to CHAD and to help out Coach Jones.”
As good as the West team was on offense, their defense was perhaps an even bigger story. They were going up against an East team backfield that had possibly the three best running backs in the state – Jerickson Fedrick (Salem), Emmitt Smith (Pinkerton) and Kevin Davies (Pinkerton). The East also had some very talented linemen, including Raige Hollis (Laconia), Brad Tiernan and Adam Morin (Exeter), Jesse Trotter (Pinkerton) and Eric Miller (Dover). With those backs and that o-line most people would have to be expecting at least 300 yards on the ground. But it didn’t happen, as those backs combined for just 99 yards on 24 carries. The West team did a great job on defense to hold those guys in check.
The biggest standout on defense for the West was Johnny Bieren (Nashua South), who was a beast out there. Bieren had 4.5 tackles, including 4 solo tackles and 3 tackles for a loss. He also had 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. Bieren will continue his football career at UMass Amherst, who starting in the 2012 season will be a Division I FBS program. He definitely looked like a Division I player on Saturday.
“Our interior guys did a great job, which freed me up to run around and make plays” said Bieren. “Nick Dragon and Logan Merritt did a great job on the interior for us, as well as the other linebackers Chris Anderson and Nick Reisert.”
The play which really got the momentum swinging in the West team’s favor was a defensive play made by Jackson King (Merrimack). Raige Hollis had just recovered a fumble for the East team, but just when they got some momentum they gave it right back. King made a great individual play defensively, coming out of nowhere to jump in front of the intended receiver and picking off a pass thrown by East QB Ryan Morris (Sanborn). King then ran it back 19 yards for the touchdown to put West up 13-0 in the 1st quarter. King also rushed for 46 yards on 3 carries.
Cole Brooker (Plymouth) and Colin Pellerin (Hollis-Brookline) also played well defensively for the West team, and Chris Chininis (Souhegan) was the team’s leading rusher with 67 yards on 5 carries. Chininis made some great moves in the open field to avoid tacklers and showed some great speed as well.
It was definitely a tough game for the East team. They only scored 1 offensive touchdown, and that didn’t come until the 3rd quarter when they were already down 37-6. The highlight of the game for them was in the 2nd quarter when Fedrick went 98 yards for a TD on a kickoff return. It was a great run by Fedrick, but the east team couldn’t hold onto the momentum as 2 plays later is when Dalton connected with Brown on the 50 yard TD pass.
Conor Donovan (Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough) was definitely a bright spot for the East team. Donovan made a whopping 11 tackles on defense, he scored the team’s lone offensive TD, averaged 51.5 yards on his kickoffs (including 1 touchback), and averaged 47 yards on his punts. Simply put, Donovan did it all out there for the East team, just like he did it all for Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough last fall in leading them to the Division VI title.
Some of these kids will also be playing in the NH/VT Shrine game on August 4, but for many of them this will be their last ever high school football game. This was a nice send-off for them, and all of the players who played in this game are deserving of the recognition and have a lot to be proud of. Not only were they selected as one of the top senior players in the state, but they were got to play on a college field in front of 1,500 people. They were also part of an event which raised a lot of money for a great cause. Forget about the final score, all of these kids are winners.
I also want to thank Pete Tarrier from WGIR Radio for having me on to do color commentary for the broadcast of this game.