It was a beautiful day for football. And in front of jam-packed house the Exeter Blue Hawks defeated the Pinkerton Astros 31-21 to capture their second straight Division I state title. Exeter defeated Pinkerton in the finals both years, and it was the 7th state title in the great career of Exeter head coach Bill Ball.
Exeter did it with a complete team effort. The Blue Hawks had 4 touchdowns and 5 total scores, with 6 different players accounting for them. Galen Antolino (106 yards), Tyler Grant (84 yards) and Jamie Vogt (29 yards) all had rushing TDs, QB Ethan Joyce threw a 27 yard TD pass to Colby Swane for the other touchdown, and Logan Laurent added a 32 yard field goal. If that's not a balanced attack I don't know what is. All 6 of those players are seniors - what a great way for them to go out, as back-to-back state champions!
"We had a lot of all-state players from last year's team who graduated" said Grant. "But we wanted to leave our mark too. They were great leaders, so we learned a lot from them and carried on the tradition."
Post-game interview with Bill Ball on WGAM:
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More post-game reaction:
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Exeter had Balance on Both Sides of Ball (no pun intended)
The first time these 2 teams played each other (week 2 win for Exeter) Grant had a big game with 197 yards rushing and 2 TDs. This time though the Blue Hawks gave the ball to a different guy on seemingly every play, trying to keep the Pinkerton defense off balance. With Grant, Antolino, Swane, Vogt and even Joyce a threat to carry it at any time it really makes it tough to stop. It's a nice luxury for Exeter to have that many capable backs.
The backs were always blocking for each other which helped, but you also can't forget about the offensive line. Collin Richardson, Zach Bosen, Ross Dannar, Brady Quinn and Tyler Wilcox all did a great job up front for Exeter.
Defensively it was also team effort. Vogt lead the way with some HUGE tackles, including one tackle late in the 1st half on 4th down for a loss which forced a turnover. Henry recovered a fumble which led to an Exeter TD. Grant, Henry and Antolino were all excellent in pass coverage, and as a result Conroy completed just 2/10 on passes.
Outside of the 84 yard TD run by Latimore, Exeter did a great job defensively against a powerful Pinkerton offense.
"It was our last time out here so I just wanted to leave it all out on the field" said Vogt, who is also a standout lacrosse player for Exeter. "These guys are my brothers, you see your teammates more than you do your family sometimes, and we have really bonded together. Sophomore year we didn't win a lot of games so that was when we learned how to get back up after you get knocked down."
Manny Being Manny
Pinkerton junior RB/DB Manny Latimore had a big game, rushing for 183 yards and 1 TD. Included in that was an 84 yard TD run that put the Astros up 6-0 with 4:31 left in the 1st quarter. He also had a 78 yard punt return for TD to cut the Exeter lead to 24-21 with 9:14 left in the 4th quarter. Those 2 plays were huge, but you also can't overlook the 40 yard reception he had, the 30 yard kick return which led to a TD run by QB Sean Conroy from 5 yards out. Nor can you overlook the crucial 4 yard run he had on 4th down and 2 on the Exeter 46 in the 2nd quarter.
"Manny is fast, he's athletic, he's a football player" said Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly. "I would like to take the credit for the punt return he had and say that's how it was drawn up, but I can't. We were actually trying to block that punt, and had 10 kids going for the block and just Manny back to receive. So when he returned it he had no blockers. He just knifed though everyone and took it to the house."
Pinkerton Fumble Swings Momentum
In just a few short minutes Exeter went from being down 7-0 to being on top 13-7. It was a common theme throughout the day, too. Every time Pinkerton got a score, Exeter responded right away with one (or sometimes two) of their own.
After Latimore's long TD run, the Blue Hawks got a solid drive going. They slowly, methodically moved down the field with the running game. Grant had a crucial 11 yard run on 3rd and 1 from midfield. A few plays later Vogt scored on a run frm 7 yards out, running off tackle to the right side. The PAT by Laurent tied it up 7-7 with 10:23 left in the 2nd quarter.
On Pinkerton's next possession Latimore ran for a couple yards, then got hit and fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Henry on the Astros' 19 yard line. Just a couple plays later Antolino scored on a run from 5 yards out. Pinkerton senior Andrew Ong blocked the extra point attempt, but it was still a 13-7 lead for Exeter.
That swing of momentum right there was huge. The fumble was costly, and Latimore also dropped a pass which probably would have gone for a TD. But while those 2 plays did hurt, the fact is Pinkerton wouldn't have even been in the game if not for all of the big plays that Latimore did make.
Joyce-to-Swane TD Pass Was Also Key
After Latimore's punt return for a TD the Blue Hawks once again answered right back. Exeter was clinging to a 24-21 lead, and there was still plenty of time left (9:00 to go in 4th quarter). But then Exeter did what Exeter does best - run the clock, move the chains and punch it in the end zone. The drive started with a 30 yard kickoff return by Swane (he nearly broke it for a score but got pushed out of bounds around midfield). Then Vogt picked up a big 1st down, rushing for 3 yards on 4th and 2 from the Pinkerton 32 yard line.
"The bigger the game, the better he plays" Coach Ball said, about Vogt.
Then Joyce threw a 27 yard TD pass to Swane, who was running towards the left corner of the end zone. That gave Exeter a 31-21 lead with 4:47 left in the game.
"I can't say enough about how important that play was" Ball said. "Ethan put it right where it needed to be."
Injuries Plagued Pinkerton
While Exeter was the better team and is deserving of the win, there's no question this would have been a different game if Pinkerton was healthy. Star linebacker Matt Madden sat out the entire game (as well as last week's semi-final win over Nashua South) win an ACL injury. Another defensive starter, DB Jake Lisauskas, suffered a sprained MCL in the 1st quarter and did not return. It would have been Lisauskus in there covering Swane when he had the 27 yard TD reception.
"Madden is our leading tackler" said Coach O'Reilly. "He has more than twice as many tackles on the season as our second leading tackler. He injured his ACL in the regular season game vs. South. Lisauskas had an MCL sprain in the 1st quarter. Then my kicker (Erik Anderson) got injured the other night horsing around at a team dinner so I had a freshman in there kicking (Kyle Cantalupo). We just had a lot of guys playing both sides of the ball with the injuries. I don't think Matt St. Onge had a play off all game."
D-II Title Game: Winnacunnet 21 Bedford 13
Both of these teams had tremendous seasons. Bedford moved up a division, had to replace their whole offensive line and still made the title game. Winnacunnet meanwhile had a great turnaround season, going from 3-7 last year and not even making the playoffs to state champions this year.
"We finally won it after going 0-3 in championship games" said Winnacunnet head coach Ron Auffant. "I was starting to think I was going to be like Marv Levy from the Buffalo Bills" he joked.
Bedford really keyed on stopping Winnacunnet star RB Ben Frannzoso, and overall they did a good job of that.
"They were one of the fastest defenses we saw all year" said Veasna.
Warriors junior QB Inghao Veasna had to step up, and he did just that.
"I thought Inghao stepped up and did a tremendous job of managing the game" said Coach Auffant.
The biggest story though was the play of the Winnacunnet defense, which did a great job against the high powered Bedford passing attack. They were led by Sam Bonsaint, Jordan Cutting and Nyles Connor.
"This is the best feeling in the world" Bonsaint said after the game.
So how did Winnacunnet go from 3-7 last year to state champs this year?
"We were just really young and inexperienced last year" said Auffant. "We had to replace 8 or 9 starters on both sides of the ball from the 2010 team that went to the championship game. More importantly though, these kids worked really hard. There was 30-40 kids in the weight room all summer. These seniors wanted to go out the right way."
As for Bedford they are still a new school (only their fourth year at the varsity level). So the fact that they have already made it to 2 championship games is a great accomplishment.
"I'm proud of our guys, they played a great game" said Bedford head coach Kurt Hines. "They're some of the greatest young men I've ever coached."
D-III Title Game: Portsmouth 54 Goffstown 27
There are some teams who just have your number. They are just not a good match up for you. That is the case for the Goffstown Grizzlies when it comes to Portsmouth. While both teams have been very good over the past couple years, Portsmouth has simply dominated the match up. Goffstown was the #1 seed in the D-III playoffs last year, and they defeated top seeded Souhegan in the semi-finals this year. However Portsmouth crushed them in the title game on Saturday, just like they did in the regular season, just like they did in last year's semi-finals and just like they did in the 2011 regular season.
The Clippers got big games from Donovan Phanor, Rick Holt and Colin MacDonald. They also did a solid job defensively on Goffstown star QB Connor Benjamin.
It was the second straight title for Portsmouth, who blew out Bedford in last year's D-III final. This one was especially impressive considering all of the injuries the Clippers had. Star WR/DB Jack Mackey was sidelined for the entire season with an injury, QB Travis MacDonald missed most of the season, RB/LB Dillon Crosby missed the first several games also. This team has a lot of perseverance, no question about it.