Keene and Nashua South was built up as the game of the weekend. Keene's win should not be considered an upset. The fact that they won by 3 scores on the road however was a surprise - to everyone except the Blackbirds themselves.
"Don't believe the doubters, that's our motto" said Keene head coach John Luopa. "We made t-shirts that say that."
Luopa's squad left no doubt about who the better team is. Not only did Keene beat South today 38-21, but they also won the regular season meeting between 42-28 just 2 weeks ago.
"It's because of our seniors" said Blackbirds standout defensive lineman Jimmy Heaney, who was an absolute beast on 'D'. "We have 10 senior starters on defense. I give it everything I have out there for those guys, we're like brothers."
Keene suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses you could possibly see in last year's D-II semi-final game to Bedford. The Blackbirds took the lead with just a minute left and thought they had it in the bag, before the Bulldogs stormed down the field and score the winning touchdown with under 10 seconds left.
"We started working right after that game and we haven't stopped" said Heaney with a smile.
Heaney, Hunter Wilkinson and Alex Parenteau led the defense for Keene, making life difficult for Nashua South star quarterback Trevor Knight, sacking him 5 times. On offense Parenteau was the story, as the 6-foot-2, 220 lbs. wrecking ball (not like Miley Cyrus) rushed for 153 yards and passed for 102 yards. Parenteau rushed for 2 touchdowns and passed for 2 TDs, further cementing his place as a legit Mr. Football candidate.
After a scoreless 1st quarter which had a combination of tough defense, fumbles and dropped passes, there was an offensive flurry in the 2nd quarter as the teams combined to score 31 points in the final 7 minutes of the 1st half. Parenteau got things started by barreling his way into the end zone for a powerful 5 yard TD run on 4th down and 1. Keene got favorable field position after South attempted a fake punt on 4th and 4 from their own 37 and Knight was brought down a yard short of the 1st down marker. The PAT was no good and it was 6-0 Keene, 6:57 left 2nd quarter.
South answered right back though. Knight pitched it to Robert Smyth who picked up 15 yards on the ground. Then Knight (127 passing yards, 105 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns passing, 1 TD rushing) ran for a 9 yard gain. At the end of the run though the ball came loose and it was recovered by Keene. The officials ruled that Knight was down by contact so no fumble, and Coach Luopa demanded an explanation. It was a very close call! Then Knight zips a great pass over to Jesse Clauss, hitting him right in stride for a 17 yard touchdown. PAT by Ryan Guidaboni is good, and South takes a 7-6 lead with 4:58 left 2nd quarter.
Just a couple minutes later it was again Keene's turn to score and re-take the lead. Parenteau hit Riley Morris for a 17 yard completion, then Parenteau ran it himself for 29 yards (plus a personal foul on South tacked on to end of the run). The drive is capped by a 11 yard TD pass from Parenteau to Isaiah Singer. Keene goes for 2, and this time Parenteau connects with Emmet Kiernan who scores the 2 point conversion. The Blackbirds go back on top, 14-7 with 2:28 left 2nd quarter. A great drive, and great execution by Keene.
Just 2 plays later South answers. Andrew Decarteret runs for 9 yards on 1st down, and then on 2nd down Knight explodes up the middle, sprinting 48 yards for the touchdown. South had some very good blocking up front on that play to open up the hole and Knight went through it showed great breakaway speed once he got through the initial line of defense. PAT = good, and we're all tied up 14-14 with 1:38 left 2nd quarter.
Again though Keene answers right back, as the offense flurry continues. After a tough hit by Decarteret, Parenteau runs for 9 yards then hits Morris for 15. He then hits Singer for an 8 yard gain. Parenteau not only did a nice job of being a dual threat to run or pass, but he also spread the ball around to 5 different receivers. Parenteau's 25 yard pass to Tom Galanes was ruled out of bounds, and then his 13 yard run was called back due to holding. As a result the Blackbirds had to settle for a field goal. This time the kick was good, as Frederick Zecha connected from 27 yards out on the last play of the 1st half. At halftime, 17-14 Keene.
Just over 2 minutes into the 2nd half, and South had already re-taken the lead. Knight hit Josh Perry for a 40 yard completion. Perry leaped up and made a great diving catch. Parenteau stepped up on 'D', hitting Knight for a loss of 4. Knight got right back up though, and threw a 13 yard TD pass to Smyth. South now lead 21-17 with 9:53 left 3rd quarter. Unfortunately for the Purple Panthers, that would be their last score as Keene scored 21 consecutive points to end the game.
On Keene's ensuing possession, Parenteau ploughed his way through the South 'D' for a tough run, and then the Purple Panthers were called for a facemask penalty. Parenteau then ran in his 2nd TD of the game from 19 yards out. Keene re-takes the lead 24-21 with 7:37 left 3rd quarter. They held the lead for the rest of the way.
South was forced to punt on their next drive. After a penalty it was 3rd and 25 on their own 26 yard line - Heaney brought the pressure to Knight, who was forced to scramble out of the pocket. Parenteau brought him down to force the punt.
The Blackbirds get the ball back, and good field position after the punt. Parenteau went back to work, running for an 11 yard gain - this kidd is a bull! He was breaking tackles and ploughing his way through defenders. Keene got to the South 6 yard line, but was called for holding which brought the back to the 25. That was perfectly fine with the Blackbirds, as Parenteau hit Galanes for a 25 yard TD pass. PAT = good, and Keene has a 2 score lead for the first time, now up 31-21 with :45 left 3rd quarter.
Now South really needs a score to stay in this thing. It's 3rd and 8 back on their own 35. Knight tries to run for the 1st down, but only picks up 1 yard and the Purple Panthers are forced to punt. A very interesting play call, as you would expect a passing play in that situation, especially with the best passing QB in the state on your side.
Keene gets the ball back, looking to add to their 10 point lead. Parenteau though gets forced out of the pocket by Christian Roscoe, he fumbles and it's recovered by Decarteret. South really needed that!
South takes over on the Keene 26 yard line, in good position to score and cut it to a 1 possession game. But then Wilkinson comes up big, sacking Knight for a loss of 8. Keee is then called for pass interference on a pass intended for Malik Langa, and the ball is now on the Keene 18. South is called for holding though, moving the ball back to the 31. On 4th and 14 from the 31 yard line Knight looks to pass but no one is open. He tries to run for the 1st down, but picks up 13 yards - just 1 yard short of the 1st. Turnover on downs, Keene football.
Blackbirds ball, trying to run clock and add to their lead. South's 'D' is up to the challenge though, as Jesus Antonio (one of the many juniors who start for South) makes a good hit for a loss of 2. Parenteau responds by hitting Kiernan for a big 8 yard pass play on 3rd and 5 from his own 35 yard line. Then it's 4th and 2 for Keene on the South 49. If they get the 1st down they pretty much ice the win, but if they don't get it then they give South good field position and a better chance at a comeback. Or Keene could punt it and pin the Purple Panthers deep in their own territory. Coach Luopa elects to try for the 1st down, as Morris runs it for no gain. Turnover on downs, and South still has a chance.
The Purple Panthers aren't able to take advantage though. Knight's pass for Langa dropped - it would have likely been a touchdown as Knight hit him in the hands with the ball and right in stride. Instead the drive stalls, bringing up 4th down and 6 on the Keene 46. Heaney and Wilkinson team up to sack Knight - turnover on downs with just 3:13 left 4th quarter. Another huge play for the Keene 'D'.
Keene ball, and here's where they put the icing on the cake. Tim Lane (86 yards and 1 TD rushing) breaks loose for a 28 yard gain (matching the number on his jersey). That brings up 1st and goal Keene on the South 1 yard line. Lane runs it in from there for the score, and it's 38-21 Keene with :51.9 left 4th quarter.
"Tim runs hard all the time, and he holds on to the ball" said Coach Luopa. "He makes it so you can't key on just 1 guy."
The game is already over, but then Heaney and Wilkinson put even more icing on the cake by once again sacking Knight.
"Hunter and I are like brothers, on and off the field" said Heaney.
The Blackbirds now advance to the D-I semi-finals where they will host Pinkerton, who is 8-2 on the season and crushed Londonderry today. Exeter will play at Concord in the other semi-final.