Sunday, October 7, 2012

Monette, Saints Take Care of Business vs. Lebanon

If you want to be a playoff team, you need to beat the teams you're supposed to beat - especially when you're playing at home. On Saturday afternoon the St. Thomas football team did just that, defeating Lebanon 28-9 in Division IV action. Lebanon is now 1-5, just 2 years after the Raiders went undefeated to win the D-IV title. STA went undefeated and won the D-V championship just last season.

This game featured arguably the 2 best players in the division - Ryan Monette from St. Thomas and Lebanon's Dylan Drew. Both players lived up to the hype, no question about it. Monette gets the game ball, as he had 188 total yards (not including a 42 yard punt return) and 3 touchdowns. Drew meanwhile had 108 total yards and 13 tackles on defense.

"This is a big win for us" said Monette, who had 141 yards rushing and 2 TD's on 17 carries to go with 6 catches for 47 yards and 1 TD. "Now we're 5-1 and stay near the top of the standings."

Lebanon hung in there, but St. Thomas was too fast, too deep and had too many weapons. After 2nd half TD's by Monette and fellow senior captain Peter Yarosewick the Saints went up 28-2 with 7:22 left in the 4th quarter. From there they hung on for the win, in a game that was played at Exeter High School's Bill Ball Stadium.

With under 3 minutes left in the 1st quarter it was still a scoreless game, as both teams got off to slow starts offensively. Monette had a 13 yard run, then a 9 yard reception (from junior QB Joe Karsonovich). But the Saints were pushed back due to a holding penalty. Then on 4th and 11 on the Lebanon 34 yard line Karsonovich's pass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs. Drew and Lucas Gerow brought the pressure on the QB to force the incomplete pass.

On the ensuing possession (Lebanon's first drive of the game) they were able to get a couple of first downs to get some momentum going. Junior QB Travis Hastings completed a 10 yard pass to junior Austin Pelletier (5 catches for 91 yards) on 3rd and 7 from their own 37 yard line. Then Lebanon head coach Chris Childs made a bold call, electing to go for it rather than punting it on 4th and 2 on the STA 46. The decision paid off, as Drew ran for 3 yards and the first down (Drew had 82 yards rushing on 18 carries to go with 1 catch for 26 yards).

Just when Lebanon was getting going, and got inside the STA 35 yard line they fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Monette.

"We hung in there with them, but we shot ourselves in the foot with mistakes" said Coach Childs.

St. Thomas capitalized on the turnover, as Monette made the run of the game to put the Saints up 6-0. Monette ran to the right side, and was met by a pair of Lebanon defenders near the line of scrimmage. Somehow though he slipped through both tackles and then scampered 42 yards for the TD.

"It was a sweep play" explained the 5-foot-9, 150 lbs. Monette. "Right away one of their guys grabbed my ankles and another guy grabbed my arm. But I just kept my feet moving and broke it off. That play definitely got us energized."

Hayden Middleton added the extra point to make it 7-0 Saints with 2:34 left in the 1st quarter. Middleton was 4/4 on PAT's and put every kickoff into the end zone. Middleton is the second best kicker in the state. The best one is Exeter's Logan Laurent who has a scholarship offer from UNH. UNH's current kicker is a Winnacunnet kid. Middleton also has a chance to be a Division I college kicker if he keeps working hard.

The 1st quarter ended with STA up 7-0.

At this point we have to mention a pair of big time plays made by Lebanon in the 2nd quarter. The first was an outstanding punt by senior Phillip Hwang. Now as Lebanon is well aware, Monette is a VERY dangerous punt returner. You always want to kick it away from him so he can't return it. Lebanon had to punt on their next possession, and not only did Hwang keep it away from Monette but he punted it 50 yards!

The other big time play the Raiders made in the 2nd quarter was a 32 yard pass play from Hastings to junior Nevin Kapuscinski. I've gotta tell you folks, this was one of the best catches I have ever seen in a high school football game. St. Thomas had good coverage on the play, but Kapuscinski just made an incredible play. He leaped up against the DB and somehow hauled in the catch while twisting his body, taking a hit and getting flipped over in mid-air. It was one of those catches you just had to see to believe!

A couple of plays later it was a big 4th down conversion attempt for Lebanon. It was 4th and 3 on the Saints' 20. But then the Raiders made a costly false start penalty pushed them back to the 25 and brought up 4th and 8. Hastings was then sacked for an 18 yard loss, ouch! St. Thomas needed about 6 defenders to bring Hastings down, as he broke a number of tackles. But the problem was he was moving backwards as he was breaking those tackles, resulting in a big loss of yardage for Lebanon.

Leading the way defensively for STA was senior linebacker Joe Richard, who had a HUGE game with well over 10 tackles. He was in on seemingly every play, and many of Richard's tackles went for little or no gain. He was all over the place and really has a nose for the football.

"He's been a solid player for us" said St. Thomas head coach Eric Cumba, a former offensive lineman for UNH. "He's a physical, athletic kid. We have moved him around a lot and he's now getting comfortable in a new position."

Lebanon also had a couple of other missed opportunities in the 1st half. Hastings threw a couple of deep balls that just BARELY missed the intended target. One of them came in the 2nd quarter, where the receiver was open and the ball was just a little overthrown. If they completed that pass it would have gone for a 53 yard TD pass and Lebanon would have had a chance to tie the game up 7-7. But instead it was incomplete and the Raiders were forced to punt.

One the ensuing punt return Pelletier made a nice return down the right sideline for 22 yards. Grayson Hardy made a BIG block on the play which freed the sideline up for Pelletier. Hardy absolutely leveled the STA player on that one!

Later in the 2nd quarter Monette scored his second TD of the game, this one coming on a 20 yard reception from Karsonovich. After Middleton's PAT it was 14-0 St. Thomas with 2:12 left in the 2nd quarter.

"I called an audible on that play" said Monette. "I saw the middle of the field was going to be open, so I went for a slant and it was open for me."

So Lebanon got the ball back with just over 2 minutes left in the half. Not much time, but still enough to get down the field and get some points on the board going into the half. They were starting out on their own 20 so they needed a big play. Drew delivered it, going for a 32 yard run to get to midfield. After a pair of incomplete passes on deep balls (good coverage by Kevin Kaneb for STA), the Raiders were forced to punt.

Lebanon got the ball right back though after a 3 and out by St. Thomas. Then came another BIG play for the Raiders offense. Hastings threw it to the flat for Gerow, who then fired the ball down field to a wide open Pelletier for a 32 yard catch. It would have been a touchdown for Lebanon, but the ball was under thrown so Pelletier had to come back for it, which allowed the STA defense to get down there and trip him up at the 4 yard line.

The clock was ticking, and the Raiders had no timeouts left. They hurried to the line to spike the ball, but they were called for an illegal motion on the play which stopped the clock but brought them back to the 9 yard line. There was only time for one more play in the 1st half. Lebanon elected to go for a 25 yard field goal. The kick was no good though, as it was partially blocked at the line and fell short. The Saints tried to return the missed FG though and were tackled in the end zone by Lebanon for a safety. It was a bizarre play, but the Raiders were finally able to get on the board.

It was 14-2 St. Thomas at halftime, but with all of the missed opportunities Lebanon had this could have EASILY been a 14-14 tie ballgame at the half.

Lebanon got the ball first to start the 2nd half. Richard continued to make big hits out there, as did the Geppert brothers Jake and Ryan. Drew made a 26 yard catch on a pass from Hastings though to get the Raiders some momentum going again. Then with the rain starting to come down hard Hastings ran for 17 yards to get inside the STA 35 yard line. But if you're sensing a pattern here it's Lebanon moving the ball and then hurting themselves with a turnover or penalty. That happened once again, as Drew fumbled inside the St. Thomas 30 and it was recovered by Richard.

Then it was the Saints turn to shoot themselves in the foot. Karsonovich threw a 36 yard TD pass to senior WR Tapley Taylor (who has one of the coolest names in the state), but the play was called back due to an offensive pass interference. It would have been a 21-2 game but instead STA was now back at midfield and forced to punt.

Lebanon was then forced to punt on their next possession. This time though, Hwang was not successful in keeping the ball away from Monette. Monette made a 42 yard punt return, showing tremendous breakaway speed and slick moves in the open field to avoid defenders. He is very tough to bring down and broke 4 tackles on the play.

A couple plays later the Monette show continued, as he ran in a 15 yard TD for his third score of the game. It was another run where Monette broke a bunch of tackles. That made it 21-2 St. Thomas.

Lebanon again had to punt on their next drive, and on the Saints next possession Yarosewick (59 total yards and 1 TD plus strong defense) ran in a 16 yard score. That made it 28-2 STA with 7:22 left in the 4th quarter.

"We took some punches in the 1st half" said Coach Cumba. "But we regrouped at halftime and started flying around in the 2nd half."

Lebanon kept battling hard, and they were finally able to get their first TD of the game. There was less than a minute left in the game and they were down 28-2. At that point they were playing for pride, and hoping to make the final score more respectable. That's exactly what they did. Hastings completed a 20 yard pass to Pelletier and then with 39.4 seconds left in the 4th quarter he ran in a 12 yard touchdown. The extra point was good (just barely) and it was 28-9 St. Thomas. Hastings (a first year starter at QB) ended up with 107 passing yards and 67 rushing yards and 1 TD.

Both Monette and Drew are definite college prospects. Monette has great speed, toughness and vision. Drew projects as a linebacker at the next level. He really excels at stopping the run and was flying around the field all day making plays and delivering hard hits.

"He's out leader on both sides of the ball" said Coach Childs about Drew, who is 6-foot-2 and 230 lbs. "He's a 3 year starter and all-state player."

Lebanon will definitely miss Drew next year, but they only graduate 7 kids off this year's team. And with a strong core of juniors which includes Hastings, Pelletier, Kapuscinski, Hardy and lineman Jacob Mellish you can expect the Raiders to be a strong team next season.

As for St. Thomas they have championship hopes. The favorites to make the playoffs in D-IV right now are Plymouth, Trinity, Windham and STA. Plymouth is the heavy favorite to win it all, as the Bobcats have beaten both Trinity and Windham in convincing fashion. Windham meanwhile crushed St. Thomas, who plays Trinity this Friday night.

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