One of the marks of a championship caliber team is depth, and being able to still win games even when key players are out of the lineup. We've seen it from Bedford, and on Saturday night in Derry we saw it from the Pinkerton Astros.
Junior TJ Urbanik had gotten off to a tremendous start the first two weeks of the season, emerging as one of the top running backs in the state. But against Salem he had 8 yards on 3 carries on the game's opening drive, then left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return.
Pinkerton was able to overcome that loss however and still pull out the win. QB Jack Hanaway and FB/LB Jason Hansen had touchdown runs, and Salem failed to score inside of Pinkerton's 10 yard line twice in game's final 5 minutes. Both times they were stopped just short, at the 1 yard line. As a result, Pinkerton hung on for the 14-7 victory to improve to 3-0 in Division I. Salem falls to 2-1
Salem came up just a 1/2 yard short of the end zone on their last drive of the game. It was 4th and goal on the Pinkerton 9 yard line. Salem QB John Cerretani dropped back to pass, threw the ball just as the pressure got to him from the PA defense and connected with senior wideout Kenny Calabrese. As Calabrese was brought down by an Astros' defender, he stretched his arm out with the ball towards the goal line. The ball was spotted just short, on the 1/2 yard line. Turnover on downs. Pinkerton football, they run one last play and then the game went final. 14-7 Pinkerton. A thrilling win for the Astros and a tough loss for the Blue Devils.
The story of the game was Salem's inability to score in the red zone when the game was on the line. The Blue Devils advanced into the red zone 4 times in the 2nd half and they scored 0 points on those drives. The first one was the first drive of the 2nd half. Salem senior Austin Homsey made a big return on the 2nd half's opening kickoff, all the way to the Pinkerton 30 yard line. Then Cerretani connected with Nick Shumski for a 17 yard pass play to get Salem into the red zone. But then the drive stalled, as Peter Cyr and Markaveus Barnes teamed up for a big tackle. On 4th down the Blue Devils elected to go for a field goal, but the kick was no good from 27 yards out.
On Salem's next drive Johnny Bartose ran for a 19 yard gain, advancing into Pinkerton territory. Salem got inside the 30, but then Hansen sacked Cerretani for a loss of 5. The Blue Devils ended up turning it over on downs.
Salem got the ball back, and with good field position on their own 46 yard line. RB Charles Sibanda picked up 14 yards on the ground. Then Mike Curley and Bryson Pacocha teamed up for a big tackle. Cerretani hit Shumski for an 11 yard completion and then Bartose rumbled 16 yards down to the Pinkerton 4 yard line, setting up 1st and goal. But again, the drive stalled. Curley made a good hit for a loss. Then it was 4th down and goal from the 4 yard line. The pitch went to Bartose, looking for running room on the left side. Nick Coombs made the tackle on the 1 yard line - turnover on downs, Pinkerton football with just 4:21 left in the 4th quarter.
Salem forces the Astros into a quick punt and gets the ball back at their own 45 yard line with 2:08 left in regulation. Cerretani hits Shumski for a 31 yard pass play down the right sideline. It was a great pass by Cerretani and a great catch by Shumski. Then Cerretani connects with Homsey for a 23 yard gain. That sets up 1st down and goal on the Astros' 9 yard line. Cyr and Justin Poitras team up for a big tackle on 3rd down. Then it's 4th and goal from the 9. That's when Cerretani completed the pass to Calabrese, who was tackled just a 1/2 yard short of the goal line.
Sibanda had 81 yards and 1 TD rushing on the game, while Cerretani completed 11/14 passes for 172 yards.
Pinkerton's offense wasn't as effective with Urbanik on the sidelines, but you also have to give credit to the Salem defense. Bartose, Jake Genest, Bryce Hynes and Austin Ribaudo in particular had strong games on 'D'.
Pinkerton's first TD of the game came on a 6 yard run by Hanaway on a QB keeper to the left side. Cyr broke off a 43 yard run and Hanaway completed a 13 yard pass to Coombs which helped set up the scoring play. It was 7-0 Astros with 2:22 left in the 1st quarter.
In the 2nd quarter Salem had possession at their own 1 yard line after Kyle Cantalupo made a good punt and it was downed at the 1 by Isaiah Backels. On 3rd and 5 from their own 6 yard line, Cerretani completed a 9 yard pass to Homsey, who got hit and fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Curley for Pinkerton. The Astros now had starting field position on the Salem 15 yard line. From there, Hansen ran right up the middle, through the Salem defense fr the 15 yard TD. 14-0 Pinkerton with 6:37 left in the 1st half. hat fumble turned out to be huge in the outcome of this game.
Salem got their lone score of the game on their ensuing drive. Homsey had a strong kickoff return, giving the Blue Devils starting field position at midfield. Sibanda had some tough runs, and then he caught a 28 yard pass from Cerretani. That set up 1st and goal on the Pinkerton 2 yard line, and from there Sibanda ran it into the end zone. 14-7 Pinkerton with 2:51 left in the 2nd quarter. That turned out to be the final score.