Sunday, November 24, 2013

Concord Cruises Past Pinkerton, Completes Undefeated Championship Season

By: Jeremy Leveille
The Concord High football team has gone from 8 consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs to undefeated Division I state champions - what a story! The Crimson left no doubt about who the best team in the state is, as they crushed Pinkerton 42-16 on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field in Concord in front of a packed house of 5,684 people.

Pinkerton had a 7-6 lead after 1 quarter of play. But then Concord completely dominated, scoring 36 points in a row to go up 42-7 with 4:33 left in the 3rd quarter. The rest of the game was played with running time in effect, as the Crimson Tide cruised to the win and the championship.

"We don't play for ourselves, we play for each other" said Concord senior Marc Gaudet, who played great defense at linebacker in addition to a 21 yard TD reception that made it 36-7 Concord with 8:28 left in the 3rd quarter. "Nobody thought we'd beat Bedford but we did, and nobody thought we'd beat Pinkerton but we did."All year long we wanted to prove we were the best team in the state."

Mission accomplished. Junior quarterback Robert Law was 9/13 passing for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns, while also rushing for 28 yards. His favorite target Seimou Smith caught 4 passes for 107 yards and 1 TD.

"We haven't talked about this much, but Robert did not throw one interception all year" Concord head coach Eric Brown pointed out. "And he threw for over 1,000 yards."

Although he threw for 3 TD's, Law's biggest pass was one that did not reach the end zone. Concord was looking nervous and shaky early on, as their first 3 offensive plays were an incomplete pass and 2 fumbles resulting in -4 yards. The on the punt the ball went straight up in the air and only went forward 1 yard, giving Pinkerton great field position on the CHS 23 yard line. Then on Pinkerton's first play star running back Manny Latimore broke through the Crimson defense for a 15 yard gain to set up 1st and goal on the 8 yard line. The Astros were clearly the sharper team out of the gate.

That all changed though with 2 plays. On the first one Pinkerton FB/LB Matt Madden rushed to the 6 yard line before fumbling - the ball was recovered by Concord senior RB/LB Walters 'the n is silent' Ndi.

Concord ball, but they get called for holding which negates a 1st down run by Leo Sudieh and then get whistled for a false start. So although the turnover helped the Tide, they were still showing signs of nerves. Law changed all of that however on the next play. On 3rd and 9 from his own 6 yard line Law surveyed the field, standing strong in the pocket, then connected on a pass to Smith coming across the middle. Smith picked up 52 yards on the reception and Concord was now in Pinkerton territory. None of these Concord players had been in a playoff game before this year, let alone a state final, whereas Pinkerton has been in the title game 4 times in a row and 9 of the last 10 years. But with that 523 yard pass from Law to Smith you could just see all the nerves go away for the Crimson. A couple plays later Sudieh took a handoff, broke the initial tackle and showed some tremendous breakaway speed on his way to the end zone for a 27 yard TD run. 6-0 Concord draws first blood, 5:13 left 1st quarter.

"Robbie reads defenses really well" said Smith, who in addition to yet another 100 yard game receiving also made some big tackles at DB. "He shouldn't be overlooked by anybody. After Trevor Knight he's the best quarterback in the state."

That score gave Concord the early momentum, but it was far from over at that point. After Brandon Barrett made a big hit for the Tide defense, Pinkerton answered with a 12 yard pass from QB Jack Hanaway to Riley Cahill, a 12 yard run by TJ Urbanik, and a 10 yard carry by Latimore which set up 1st and goal from the 5 yard line. From there Urbanik ran in the touchdown from 5 yards out. The PAT was good and the Astros had the lead 7-6 with 1:45 left 1st quarter. (Concord's 2 point conversion on their first TD was no good). However that was the one and only lead Pinkerton would have on this day.

Concord had a blocked punt, recovered an onside kick, a tipped pass that ended up going for a 60 yard completion, they forced 4 fumbles, one of the Astros' top defenders went out with an injury and sat most of the game (Michael Martinoli) and they held Latimore to under 100 yards - everything seemed to go their way.

Not everything went Concord's way on their ensuing drive, though. Trailing 7-6 and back on their own 20 yard line, the Tide were again called for a false start. Then their fortunes changed, as Law's pass was tipped by a Pinkerton defender and then somehow landed in the hands of receiver Walter Szulc who sprinted up the left sideline for a 60 yard gain. The Astros 'D' hung in there, as Ryan day made a tough hit to bring up 4th and 10 on the PA 25 yard line. Again though Law responded with a big time throw, this time hitting Smith in stride for an 11 yard completion and the 1st down.

Pinkerton's defense kept battling, as Madden and Jason Hansen both stepped up to deliver good hits. On 3rd and 11 from the PA 16, Sudieh ran for a 5 yard gain but was hit hard by Shawn Murray. That brought up 4th and 5 from the 11. This is when Law made possibly his only mistake of the game, overthrowing his intended target Smith in the end zone for an incompletion. Turnover on downs, as Pinkerton dodged a bullet and still leads 7-6 in the 2nd quarter.

The rest of the 2nd quarter though was all Concord. During the last 7 minutes of the 1st half, Concord had 3 drives and scored touchdowns all 3 times. Pinkerton meanwhile had the ball 4 times during that span - they had 1 fumble, 2 punts (one of which was blocked by Concord) and on their last possession they ran out of time and were unable to score before the halftime buzzer sounded.

The Astros fumble when they were still up 7-6 was a big one. Madden fumbled, and it was recovered by Gaudet. Concord's explosive offense took over on the PA 23 yard line. The Astros' coaches pleaded with the officials saying that Madden was down by contact before the ball came loose, but the call stood. Law picked up 17 yards on a QB keeper, setting up 1st and goal from the 6. Ndi dove in from 6 yards out for the touchdown. The Tide go for 2, but Law scrambles left and is brought down by Hansen short of the goal line. It's Concord 12, Pinkerton 7 with 6:44 left 2nd quarter.

Concord's defense kept the momentum rolling. Senior lineman Dylan Naylor sacked Hanaway, then on 3rd and 12 from the PA 12 yard line Smith made a tackle for a loss. The Astros were forced to punt, and after a short punt and a good return the Crimson again had great field position, starting their next drive at the PA 31 yard line.

Sudieh (60 yards and 1 TD) ran for a 14 yard gain, and then Ndi took it in for the touchdown from 12 yards out. This time the 2 point conversion was good, as Law rolled right and connected with Gaudet in the end zone. Concord now had a 2 possession lead, 20-7 with 2:51 left 1st half.

After the kickoff, Pinkerton now had to start their ensuing drive way back on their own 4 yard line. Senior lineman Kyle Cushman made a good hit, then Pinkerton punted it. The punt was blocked, and recovered by Szulc on the PA 27 yard line - again outstanding field position for the Crimson.

Again, Concord wasted no time turning that good field position into points. Law dropped back and threw it towards the end zone for Smith. It was a jump ball, as Pinkerton had a defender right there battling Smith for it. But Smith made a tremendous diving catch for the 27 yard TD reception. Sudieh runs in the 2 point conversion and Tide are really rolling now, up 28-7 with :58 left in the 2nd quarter.

"After the Bedford game is when we found out that we were something special" said Smith. Up until then everyone was only talking about our offense, but that game is when our defense really stepped up too. Today we showed people that size doesn't matter, it's about skill."

Concord continued to dominate in the 3rd quarter. On the opening kickoff to start the 2nd half they went for an onside kick and it was recovered successfully by junior William Scharlotte.

"I was excited when they called for the onside kick" said Gaudet. "I knew we were going to get it. We had been saving it all season for that moment."

Concord had to grind it out their next drive. Martinoli was sidelined with an injury, but Madden and Urbanik made tough hits. Law continued to make big play after big play though - on 3rd and 8 on the PA 42 yard line he hit Smith for a 17 yard completion to the Pinkerton 25 yard line. The Astros buckled down on 'D', as Phil Harper clogged the middle and made a good tackle for no gain. Then after a couple of penalties it was 3rd and 30 for the Tide on the PA 46 yard line.

This was a key point in the game - the Astros were still in the game but they needed a stop here and then a score. Instead, Law hits Ndi for a screen pass and Ndi (63 yards rushing and 2 TDs, plus 1 catch for 25 yards) picks up 25 yards on the play. That sets up 4th down and 5 on the Pinkerton 21 yard line. Then comes yet another big play by Law - he rolls right, looks across the field to the left and hits a wide open Gaudet in the end zone for a 21 yard TD pass. It's now 6-7 Concord, 8:28n left 3rd quarter. At this point a Pinkerton comeback seems highly unlikely.

It appears even more unlikely when Pinkerton's next possession ends with an interception, as Szulc picks off a Hanaway pass and returns it to the PA 29 yard line. Ndi then takes the handoff and runs 24 yards to set up 1st and goal Concord from the 5. Law then puts the icing on the cake, connectecting with receiver Nick Comeau for the 5 yard TD pass. It's now 41-7 Concord, 4:33 left in the 3rd quarter.

The rest of the game was played with running time in effect. On Pinkerton's next drive their offense continued to struggle. Junior lineman Wyatt Labombard sacked Hanaway, then Szulc and Ndi made good tackles. The Astros turned it over on downs.

Latimore (94 rushing yards and 1 TD) ran in a 12 yard TD added a late score with just :44 left in the game. By that time though Concord had already dumped the Gatorade on head coach Eric Brown and began celebrating their inevitable championship on the sideline. Final score: Concord 42, Pinkerton 14.

Coach Brown deserves a lot of credit for turning this program around. 4 years ago when he took over Concord High was one of the most struggling football programs in the state. But in each of his 4 seasons they have steadily won more games than the year before. in 2012 they missed the playoffs, but were once again at least a respectable, competitive team. Then this year they're undefeated state champs, and the undisputed #1 team in the state.

"The biggest thing we changed was our offseason work" said Coach Brown. "We really put an emphasis on offseason conditioning. We don't have the biggest kids, so we need to be stronger.

Naylor, Cushman, Labombard, Smith, Ndi, Gaudet, Barrett and Szulc all played very well defensively for Concord. Everyone knows about their explosive offense, but the defense really stepped up to stop the potent offense of Pinkerton.

"Coach (Mike) Pelletier did a great job with the game plan on defense and making in-game adjustments" said Coach Brown. We work on forcing turnovers every day in practice - ripping and stripping."

As for Pinkerton, this was a disappointing loss but they still had a very good season. They're still the second best team in the state. It's the end for a strong senior class, and Latimore and Madden will go down as 2 of the best players Pinkerton has had in a long time. Both were 4 year starters, and both played in 4 championship games, winning the title as freshmen. Next year look for Urbanik, Hanaway, sophomore lineman Hayden Sturdevant, Hansen, Day and Cahill to return to once again give the Astros a strong team.

As for Concord, this is a season these kids will remember forever. They were so good on both sides of the football. Good offense, with the run and the pass, good defense and good coaching. Most of their top players are graduating, but they still will be returning Law - you can already pencil him in as the early favorite for 2014 NH Mr. Football. Szulc, Sudieh, Labombard will also be back, as well as Kevin Condict, Kristoffer Skinner and Scharlotte who were also key players on this year's championship team.

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