By: Ross Laorenza
It was a glorious afternoon for football from Memorial Field in Concord as the Crimson Tide took on the Exeter Blue Hawks. The winner of this head to head Division-I clash would advance to the Championship game. Exeter was trying to repeat, having won the D-I crown last season.
Exeter would get the ball first in this one, but their drive would quickly stall. Concord got great starting field position at the 47 yard line. Robert Law (#10) connected on his first pass of the game to Marc Gaudet (#14) to get the drive started, picking up 6 yards. Then the Crimson Tide went to the ground attack. Walters Ndi (#42) picked up 8, then Law picked up 29 on a quarterback keeper bringing the ball down to the 6 yard line. Gaudet took it in from there for the 6 yard rushing touchdown. The PAT woes from last week continued with another miss. With 7:33 to go in the first quarter Concord leads 6-0.
Running back Jay Inzenga (#7) led the charge for the Blue Hawks with some spectacular plays. After their second drive seems to stall, Exeter converted on a fake punt that fooled everyone. Slowly but surely the Blue Hawks were gaining yardage. It seemed like every rush went for 3-5 yards. The offensive line was great on the day. Their drive that started with over seven minutes left in the first quarter was still churning downfield into the start of the second. Inzenga finally capped the 11 minute drive with a 19 yard touchdown up the middle. PAT was good. With 9:32 remaining in the half Exeter leads 7-6.
After a crucial fumble by Robert Law, the Blue Hawks returned the ball all the way down to the 5 yard line, but it was the Crimson Tide defense who would win this battle. Exeter was stopped three times from inside the five and was forced to settle for the field goal. The kick was good and Exeter leads 10-6 with 1:33 left in the half.
Now some teams would be satisfied going into halftime down four, knowing they get the ball first in the second half, but Concord wanted to give it one last shot to put points on the board. Starting from their own 40 the Tide began their drive. Robert Law was extremely effective, starting with a 16 yard pick-up to Walters Ndi and then a 36 yard completion to Seimou Smith (#1) to give the Tide first and 10 at the 12 with less than a minute to play. After a spike and two incompletions Concord faced fourth and 10. Concord called a timeout to set up a play and after they were set up, Exeter called a timeout to counter. When play resumed Robert Law found Walters Ndi in the flat and he took it in, evading several tacklers, for the 12-yard score with 26 second left. On the two-point conversion Law kept it himself running wide to the left and in. At the half Concord: 14, Exeter: 10.
The second half started off a little strange. The kickoff bounded over the head of the Crimson Tide return team and Exeter recovered, setting them up with excellent field position. However, on their first play Exeter fumbled giving possession back to Concord at the 11. After a few plays sophomore Leo Sudieh (#8) broke off an impressive 58 yard rush bringing the ball down to the 13 yard line. It was now Exeter’s turn for a defensive stop. After some more tough running by Sudieh, Concord faced fourth and one at the four yard line. The Blue Hawk defense would hold their ground and turn the ball back over to their offense.
Ryan Kelly (#35) was a great complement in the running game for the Blue Hawks. He has a very physical style of attacking the line of scrimmage, and gained some real tough yards throughout the game. He picked up two third down conversions as Exeter began to drive down the field, but their drive would come to a screeching halt when Joey Jones’ (#22) pass was intercepted along the far sideline.
After the turnover Concord started at the 49. Law rushed the ball picking up the first on second and four, Ndi took it down to the 2 on a 36 yard scamper. Then it was Leo Sudieh taking it up the middle for the two yard rushing touchdown. Law connected with Bakir Bascelic for the two-point conversion. With 3:05 left in the third Concord leads 22-10.
Time was not on Exeter’s side as the fourth quarter began. They had possession needing at least two scores, and Concord’s defense was getting better by the snap. With 6:32 left in the game the Blue Hawks came close, facing a third and five from the 15 yard line, but a sack by Walters Ndi push the ball back two yards. On fourth and seven Jones passed the ball out to Mark Cicchini Jr. (#30) but he came up just short of converting.
The Blue Hawks would get the ball back one final time, but it wasn’t enough and time slowly ticked towards zero on another great season. Final score: Concord: 22, Exeter: 10. The Crimson Tide was square off against the Pinkerton Astros next week for the D-I championship.
From Memorial Field in Concord, New Hampshire. Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook