Saturday, September 22, 2012

Winnacunnet Beats Exeter

Winnacunnet and Exeter. The BIGGEST football rivalry in the state of New Hampshire. When these teams play each other it's a BIG deal. And even though this was a non-league game that didn't count in the standings there was definitely A LOT at stake. Most notably bragging rights, as well as the title of #1 team in the state.

"This game is bigger than a championship game for us" said Winnacunnet head coach Ron Auffant, who couldn't be more proud of his team after the game. "I've only been here 10 years, but this rivalry goes back to 1924. When I see people around town, they don't ask what our record was, they just ask me if we beat Exeter. This isn't Keene and Goffstown, we're not playing our JV's."

The Warriors played their starters the whole game, and so did the Blue Hawks. You had likely the best team in Division I (Exeter) vs. the best team in Division II (Winnacunnet) going at it in front of an absolutely packed house, with a great atmosphere. The teams fought tooth and nail for all 48 minutes - there were 4 ties and 3 lead changes.

But in the end the difference was senior running back Ben Franzoso, who ran for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 16 carries. And Winnacunnet prevailed 27-24 over an Exeter team that was the undisputed #1 team in NH going into the game. Well guess what folks, we have a new #1 team, and they reside in Hampton.

"They were the better team" said Exeter head coach Bill Ball. "They made critical plays and we didn't. They ran their Power I formation, and we had problems containing the edge."

That inability to continue the edge for the Blue Hawks resulted in TD runs of 77 and 76 yards for Franzoso. The 76 yard run came on the game's second play from scrimmage, putting Winnacunnet up 7-0 just :15 into the game.

Then in the 2nd quarter, with the game now tied up 14-14 Franzoso again broke off a long run. This time it was on the first play of the drive, and with the whole Exeter defense moving to the right side of the field with the snap, Winnacunnet ran a little misdirection, with Franzoso running to the left side. He was barely past the line of scrimmage and only had one man to beat. But he broke the tackle and was off to the races, going 77 yards for the score, putting the Warriors back up 21-14 with 5:20 left in the 2nd quarter.

"Seth Edwards block was great on that play" said Franzoso. "So I just broke it out straight from there."

On the very next play from scrimmage Colby Swane answered right back for Exeter, running for a 65 yard TD to tie the game right back up at 21-21. It was Swane's second TD of the half, after he caught a 25 yard TD pass from QB Ethan Joyce on the team's previous possession.

The Blue Hawks had a chance to take the lead going into halftime after Jamie Vogt recovered a fumble on Winnacunnet's 26 yard line. But the Warriors defense stepped up, forcing Exeter to attempt a 40 yard field goal. Normally you would think that despite the long distance it would be automatic for kicker Logan Laurent (the best kicker in the state), but the kick sailed just barely wide to the right and the teams went into halftime knotted at 21-21. A 4 yard TD run by Exeter senior Tyler Grant (91 yards rushing on the day) and a 2 yard TD run by Franzoso accounted for the rest of the points in the 1st half.

It was an offensive show in the 1st half, but both teams buckled down defensively in the 2nd. Franzoso had 171 of his 221 rushing yards in the 1st half, so Exeter did step up and do a better job on him in the 2nd. And on the other side Winnacunnet made some adjustments to limit the big play ability of Swane. The result was a total of just 9 points being scored in the 2nd half.

Laurent kicked a 35 yard field goal on the first drive of the 2nd half, a drive which was aided by a crucial pass interference call on Winnacunnet and a 28 yard run by Grant. The FG put Exeter up 24-21 with 8:33 left in the 3rd quarter. It was the Blue Hawks first lead of the game.

Winnacunnet answered back with an 80 yard drive, ending with a 2 yard TD run by junior QB IngHao Vaesna. The score was set up by a 26 yard pass play from Vaesna to junior WR/DB Colin Witt and a 20 yard run by Franzoso. The extra point attempt by senior Carly Gould (who is also a standout for the WHS girls soccer and girls basketball teams) was no good, although she did make all of her other PAT attempts on the night. So the Warriors went back on top 27-24 with 1:57 left to play in the 3rd quarter.

You have to also give credit to the Winnacunnet offensive line and defense. The o-line created running room for Franzoso, and the defense did a very good job as well, especially in the 2nd half. Leading the way on the o-line was Christian Dyer and Jordan Cutting, and the defense was led by Cutting, Renaldo Gordon and Sam Bonsaint.

The Warriors defense really stepped late. Exeter had the ball twice in the 4th quarter down 27-24 but both drives resulted in a turnover on downs by the Blue Hawks. On the first drive senior LB Garrett Holt hurried Joyce out of the pocket, and then Bonsaint finished the play by recording the sack of Joyce. Then on 4th down and 3 on the Winnacunnet 46 yard line Grant was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain. There was a flag on the play, with a penalty being called on WHS, but it was after the whistle so it was Winnacunnet ball.

Exeter got the ball back with 2:27 left in the 4th quarter, still trailing 27-24. They were back at their own 26, with one last chance to tie or win the game. But once again the Warriors defense came up big. Bonsaint once again made a play, tackling rant for a loss. The Blue Hawks still had some life left though - on 4th and 9 on their own 27 Joyce completed a 21 yard pass to tight end Zach Bosen.

That got Exeter close to midfield, but they didn't get any further to scoring. Bonsaint again made a big play, sacking Joyce. Gordon and Brandon Gnecco were also in on the tackle. That set up 4th and 13 on their own 46. WHS blitzed Joyce, forcing him out of the pocket and into throwing an incomplete pass.

Turnover on downs. Game over.

Also playing well defensively for Winnacunnet were their hard hitting DB's Witt and Clint Felch, as well as linebacker Nyles Connor.

Even with the loss, Exeter is still the favorite to win the Division I title. Meanwhile, with the Winnacunnet becomes the new #1 ranked team in NH and the favorite to win the D-II championship.

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