When two teams overall are evenly matched, often times it's the big plays that decide it. That was the case on Friday night's Division I showdown between arch rivals Pinkerton and Londonderry (both 3-0 coming in). On the first play from scrimmage, Pinkerton junior RB/DB TJ Urbanik (who was limitd to just 8 yards on 3 carries last week vs. Salem with a shoulder injury) took the hand off, bounced it to the edge and raced 70 yards up the left sideline for a 70 yard touchdown.
"Before the game I told TJ he was going to score a touchdown on the first play of the game" said Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly. "He's a track star with great speed, as fast as anyone in the state. He was cleared by the doctors to play on Thursday."
Soon after that came the biggest play of the game. It was 2nd and goal for Londonderry on the PA 2 yard line. Lancers QB Eric Fairweather pushed forward, looking for the end zone and it looked like he may have gotten in there. Then the ball came loose, Pinkerton's Riley Cahill recovered the fumble on the 1 yard line and ran 99 yards for the touchdown. Just like that it was 14-0 Astros and the Lancers faithful were stunned at what had just happened.
There are two big questions here - did Fairweather get in the end zone before the fumble? And secondly, was it even a fumble or was the play over before the ball came loose?
"I wanted an explanation and I never got it" said Londonderry head coach Jimmy Lauzon. "Usually on a play like that the officials will get together and have a conference if they weren't sure if he got in the end zone or not. But they didn't do that and I got no explanation as to why they called it that way. I'm not sure if he was in or not, I'll have to look at the film. It was a big play, but we're not blaming the refs."
"It created a score that wasn't indicative of how close the game was" said Coach O'Reilly. "I didn't get a great look at the play but I thought the right call was made."
From there Londonderry was forced to battle from behind the rest of the game. The Lancers did have a couple big plays of their own. Fairweather broke loose for a 55 yard TD run and Fairweather also threw a 51 yard TD pass on a flea flicker play to Ryan Herold. The first TD came right after Pinkerton took a commanding 21-0 lead on a 15 yard TD run by Urbanik. Urbanik ended up with 165 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, plus 2 catches for 37 yards and another TD.
After Londonderry cut the lead to 21-7, Pinkerton responded with a 25 yard TD pass from QB Jack Hanaway to Urbanik. That put the Astros back on top by 3 scores and take a 28-7 lead into halftime. Londondery had the ball to start the 2nd half, but senior DE Michael Martinoli burst through the LHS line and sacked Fairweather for a big loss on the play and forcing a punt.
On PA's next drive, Fairweather made a big play on defense, making a tackle for a loss of 7 yards and forcing an Astros' punt. That's when Michael Ryan flipped the ball back to Fairweather, who found a wide open Herold racing down the field for the 51 yard TD pass. A great play call by the Lancers there, and now they were back in it, only down 28-14 with 6:15 left in the 3rd quarter. Fairweather finished with 193 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns, plus 90 yards passing and 1 TD.
"They have a very explosive offense, thy're a very good team" said O'Reilly.
Pinkerton pushed their lead back to 3 scores on a 2 yard TD run by Mike Curley. They were able to grind out that drive, moving down the field with a variety of running plays.
"Our offensive line was outstanding" said O'Reilly. "We wanted to control the line of scrimmage tonight, because we didn't do that last week vs. Salem. I have Hayden Sturdevant and Noah Robison who have been starting for 2-3 years, Justin Poitras played well at guard as well as Darius St. Germain. And we got Austin Whitehead, a transfer from Florida, who is one of the best blocking tight ends we've ever had here. He is a match up nightmare, and the Londonderry defensive end couldn't handle him. Peter Cyr blocked well for TJ all game."
Londonderry answered back with a 2 yard TD run by Fairweather. Earlier on the drive Ryan had a 15 yard run and Fairweather completed a 16 yard pass to David Weidenfeld on 4th and 6 from the PA 47 yard line. That cut the Astros lead to 34-21 with 6:00 left in the 4th quarter.
The Lancers went for the onside kick, and they were nearly able to force a fumble by Isaiah Backels was able to hang onto it for Pinkerton. On 4th and 9 from the LHS 35 yard line, Hanaway got rushed, hit and then fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Londonderry on the Pinkerton 45 yard line. Lancers, ball down 2 scores with 4:12 remaining. It wasn't over yet!
But then Bryson Pacocha made a big play, sacking Fairweather. That brought up 4th and 7 on the PA 43 yard line. Fairweather scrambled out of the pocket to evade the pass rush, rolled left and threw a laser of a pass, across his body towards the end zone. The pass fell through Herold's hands incomplete. Turnover on downs.
Then Urbanik took the hand off and ran 42 yards for another TD and it was 41-21 Astros. Bret Datillo intercepted a Fairweather pass on the next drive to put this game on ice. Pinkerton wins for the 16th straight time against Londonderry, winning another Mack Plaque trophy 41-21.
The win did come at a cost for Pinkerton, as standout FB/LB Jason Hansen got hurt.
"Hansen injured his knee on the play where he got an interception" said O'Reilly. "He'll be out for awhile, it may be an ACL."