It's still very early in this years football season but Saturday's game between the Pride of Merrimack Valley and the Saint Thomas Saints could have a big impact on playoff seeding in Division II. Both teams had preseason plans to play well into November on the road to a state championship. MV already has one loss in the seasons first week to Kennett, another team with preseason championship ambitions. The Saints come into the game undefeated with 2 impressive early season blow outs. The winner of this game puts themselves in the drivers seat in the East conference of Division 2.
Both teams have high powered offenses running from spread formations. They have no fear of putting the ball in the air. St. Thomas scored 103 points in their first two games and MV has the very talented UNH bound quarteterback Ivan Niyomugabo.
MV head coach Jim Coll had his defense geared and ready to stop the Saint scoring machine.
MV stopped the Saints on their first two possessions forcing them to go 3 and out. The Saints got things going on their 3rd drive after they recovered a bad snap on a MV punt at the 38. The Pride defense limited the Saints to a 28 yard field goal by sophomore #10 Nick Guilfuchi. Saints take the early lead 3-0.
The Pride answers back when #7 QB Ivan Niyomugabo runs 28 yards for a touchdown. The Pride unable to convert the extra point go up 6-3 after one quarter. When a team defensive game plans for the Pride they have to find a way to try to limit Ivan to a handful of big plays. Their is no way that a team can completely shut down the ultra athletic Niyomugabo. Ivan has the ability to take over a game with his legs or his arm. The Saints did a great job limiting the Pride quarterback to a handful of big plays.
St.Thomas quarterback #14 junior Stephen Hedberg does a very good job running the offense using multiple backs and receivers. This is what makes the Saints tough to defend - there is not just one player to key on. They must use 10 different players in their run and pass game. Hedberg gets the Saints into the end zone scoring from 1 yard out and giving them a 10-6 lead at the half.
There was some concern at halftime coming from the Pride training staff. Niyomugabo seemed to hurt is left wrist in the second quarter when the quarterback tried to hurdle a Saint tackler and landed hard on the left wrist. The good news after getting taped up Ivan was able to start the second half.
On the Pride's second possession of the third quarter Ivan hit a wide open senior #29 Tommy Schneider down the middle for a 27 yard touchdown. The MV takes the lead 12-10 but was unable to convert the extra point going for 2. Schneider had 2 catches on the day for 49 yards. Ivan has a big time arm but the Saints defense did a great job blitzing and keeping pressure on the Pride quarterback, limiting him to only 5 completions on 20 passes. Ivan was able to breakaway on a couple long runs totaling 202 yards rushing on the day.
Trailing by 2 the Saints were able to drive all the way down to the Pride one yard line but a bad snap and a sack by #75 Jake Barker forced the Saints into a 33 yard field goal attempt. The kick was no good and it looked like the Pride had the momentum and was in position to come up with a big win.
With 5:10 left in the 4th quarter the Saints came up with the play of the game. Coach Cumba slipped the 2nd string QB #3 Trevor Martin into the backfield. Martin starts in the defensive backfield at safety and happens to be left handed. Hedberg hands the ball off to Martin for a sweep to the left. Martin studs the MV defense when he hits junior #25 Liam Middleton with a 47 yard halfback pass for a touchdown and the go ahead score 17-12.
The St. Thomas defense was able to keep Niyomugabo from pulling off any late game magic. The Saints are off to a great start at 3-0. They have the always dangerous Plymouth at home next week. MV goes on the road to Kearsarge for a must win game to keep in the playoff hunt. They definitely have their backs against the wall, but with #7 at quarterback they are capable of running the table on the remaining regular season schedule. They need to find some other players to step up to give them more options on offensive.