In the biggest game of the year so far, the Concord Crimson held on for a 34-27 win over Bedford in front of a jam packed stadium at Memorial Field in Concord on Friday night. They were the top 2 ranked teams in the state according to the latest ESPN NH Football Poll, both at 6-0 coming in. It was definitely a nail biter, but Concord twice led by 2 touchdowns in the 2nd half so they were clearly the better team. Plus the Tide were playing without one of the best players, as Leo Sudieh was suspended for the third straight week.
The MVP of this game has got to be junior quarterback Robbie Law. After misfiring on his first pass of the game, Law completed 20 consecutive passes, finishing 20/21 for 195 yards, 2 touchdown passes, plus throwing for one 2 point conversion and running in another. He was going up against a Bedford defense which is likely the best in the state and he delivered.
Still, the Bulldogs had a shot to tie or win it at the very end. They had the ball on the Concord 29 yard line with 6 seconds left. But Concord senior Walters Ndi sacked Bedford QB Dan Colella to end the game and seal the win for the Crimson.
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It was fitting that Ndi is the player who sacked Colella to end it. Play was stopped not once but twice in the 2nd half with Ndi requiring assistance from the training staff. He had to leave the game twice but he kept going back in. Ndi is a tough, gutsy player. He was held to 67 rushing yards by an excellent Bedford defense, but Ndi still made a big impact by playing great defense.
The play that turned out to be the difference happened long before Ndi's game-ending sack, however. It came late in the 2nd quarter - Bedford had the ball, trailing 14-7. They were way back on their own 1 yard line after a great punt by Law and an even better special teams play by Seimou Smith to hustle down field and down it on the 1. The Bulldogs fumbled iton their own 4 yard line, and it was recovered by the Tide. Concord was moved back to the 8 yard line, but then Law dropped back and connected with Bakir Bascelic for an 8 yard TD pass. Two officials discussed the call for a awhile before ruling that Bascelic was in fact in bounds and that the touchdown as good. The PAT was no good, but Concord still had a 20-7 lead with 4:39 left in the 1st half. Bedford would then play catch up the rest of the game. Bedford fumbled it on their own 4, and Concord capitalized on that mistake (get it, because Concord is NH's capital!).
Make no mistake though, even though this game had a 34-27 final score there was still some outstanding defensive performances. The player who impressed the most on 'D' was Bulldogs linebacker Thomas O'Rourke. The kid was an absolute beast, flying around all game hitting people. It seemed like every time there was a big hit, it was O'Rourke who was the one delivering it. It's scary to think O'Rourke is only a junior, too. Eric Glassman also had a big game defensive for Bedford. Matt Howe, Andrew Biederman and Ryan Belz also made some bone jarring hits.
Leading Concord's defense was Wyatt LaBombard, who is also just a junior. He came up big for the Tide, especially in the 1st half. Ndi, Smith, Dylan Naylor and Marc Gaudet also played well on 'D' for Concord. In addition to making some big hits defensively, Gaudet also had 41 rushing yards and 2 TDs to go with 6 catches for 62 yards and 1 touchdown, plus he scored on a 2 point conversion.
Bedford got on the board first when senior captain Aaron Palys broke through the middle of the Concord defense for an 84 yard touchdown run. The PAT was good by Keelan McCoole and it was 7-0 Bedford with 5:21 left in the 1st quarter. Concord though would score the next 20 points, and led 20-7 at halftime. Of course that was helped by the Bulldogs fumble on the 4 yard line.
The Tide's other 2 TDs in the 1st half came on touchdown runs by Gaudet - one from 14 yards out and the other from the 3. Law made a huge play to set up the first score by connecting with Gaudet on a 35 yard pass on 3rd and 19 from their own 41 yard line. On the very next possession Law made 2 more big throws to keep the drive going. On 3rd and 4 on the Bedford 44 he hit Walter Szulc for an 8 yard gain, and then on 4th and 3 on the Bulldogs' 29 he connected with Gaudet for an 11 yard completion. Law had his best game in the biggest game of the year so far.
Another player who had a big game was Bedford senior WR/DB Nick Vailas. Vailas played solid defense, but he is no question one of the top wideouts in the state. Vailas had 8 catches for 128 yards and 1 touchdown. He made some incredible catches, including the catch he made on his 30 yard TD reception. Bedford was trailing 26-14 in the 4th quarter. They really needed a score here if they wanted a shot at a comeback. Colella threw the ball to the corner of the end zone. The pass was defended well by Concord, but Vailas leaped up and simply made an outstanding grab.
The other great catch was made by Smith on a 29 yard TD pass from Law. It was a jump ball in the end zone, with Smith and Bedford DB Nate Jaeger both jumping up for it. Both players had their hands on the ball in the end zone, but Smith came down with it. It was a great effort by Smith, who ended up with 8 catches for 86 yards and 1 TD.
Bedford trailed 20-7 at halftime, but Concord quickly cut it to a 1 score lead. The Tide were forced to punt, and Mike Vailas (Nick's cousin) returned the punt 54 yards for the touchdown. ow it was 20-14 Concord with 7:09 to play in the 3rd quarter.
Concord answered right back on their next drive though, to go back up by 2 touchdowns. Ndi got it started with a 14 yard run, then Bedford was called for a BIG pass interference penalty on 3rd and 19. Then after another penalty on the Bulldogs (this time a facemask) it was 1st and goal on the Bedford 9 yard line. Then comes another one of the game's biggest plays - on 4th down and goal on the 4 yard line, Law runs play action and hits Gaudet in the end zone for a 4 yard TD pass. The two point conversion attempt is no good, and it's Concord 26 Bedford 14 with 2:33 left in the 3rd quarter.
Then Colella hit Nick Vailas for the aforementioned 30 yard TD pass. Again though, Concord answered right back with a score on their very next drive with Law throwing the TD pass to Smith. It was now 34-20 Concord.
Bedford has the ball down by 2 TDs in the 4th quarter. They need a score here, but they fumbled it yet again. Their 2 fumbles in this game were VERY costly. This time though the Tide did not turn the turnover into a score. They were forced to punt, and then Bedford scored to cut it to a 1 possession game. Colella hit Nick Vailas for a 31 yard completion, then Concord was whistled for holding. On 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line Colella snuck in for the touchdown. It was now 34-27 Crimson, with just 4:12 left in the 4th quarter.
Concord was trying to run the clock out. It was 4th and 4 on the Bedford 33 yard line - big play here. A 1st down here for Concord and it's game over. But if they don't get it then the Bulldogs get the ball back with about a minute left and a chance to tie or win it with a TD. Belz steps up, makes a big play to sack Law. Turnover on downs, Bedford still has a chance!
Colella got them down to the Concord 29 yard line, but you know how it ended from there.
It will be these same two teams meeting in the playoffs. Concord will be at home, and as long as they keep winning they will be the favorite in the game (especially if Sudieh is back in the lineup).