Exeter has one of the state's top defenses and on Friday night they lived up to the hype, holding a high powered Portsmouth offense to just 2 touchdowns and 17 total points. They were going up against one of the state's top quarterbacks in Conor DiCesare, who has a a strong arm and a talented receiving core (5 different Clippers had 3+ catches). But the Blue Hawks intercepted DiCesare 3 times and came up with a goal line stand, holding Portsmouth to a field goal after it was 1st and goal from the 4.
Exeter also got a strong game (on both sides of the ball) from Nicholas Flodstrom, who rushed for 131 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 11 carries. Kyle Ball, Mark Cicchini and Shane Quimby all had interceptions for the Exeter 'D'. Ball (only a sophomore) was starting his second varsity game at QB and threw a 23 yard TD pass to Chris Kelley (who also rushed for 71 yards).
DiCesare did manage to throw for 262 passing yards and 2 TDs. He threw a whopping 54 passes, completing 32. All of the pressure was on DiCesare, with his team playing from behind for most of the game and with no balance on offense (Clippers had just 14 yards rushing).
"The kid is a great athlete" said Exeter head coach Bill Ball (no relation to his QB/DB Ryan Ball). "He has good mechanics, throws over the top. We just tried to disrupt him."
The Blue hawks certainly disrupted him on the first Clipper drive. Chris Henry made a nice tackle for Exeter. On 3rd and 1 from the EHS 47 yard line, a tough Exeter pass defense forced an incomplete pass, but on 4th and 1 Mikel Toar picked up 2 yards on the ground for the 1st down. Then DiCesare looked to air it out deep, down the right sideline, but was picked off by Ball, who made a diving grab.
They only had a 3 man front, so it was tough to throw with 8 guys back there defending the pass" commented DiCesare.
Portsmouth grabbed momentum on their next drive, as the Clippers spread the field, sending 5 receivers. DiCesare hit Jake Lorenz for an 11 yard gain, then a 10 yard pass to Loden Formichelli (8 catches for 79 yards). Then came a crucial 4th and 5 conversion attempt from the Exeter 37 yard line. DiCesare again found Formichelli, this time for a 25 yard pickup down to the Blue Hawks' 2 yard line. Then DiCesare connected with Lorenz for the 2 yard TD pass. The PAT was good by Isabelle Pafford and it was 7-0 Clippers with 6:03 left in the 1st quarter.
Over the years Exeter is known as a team where it's rare they have a TD scored on them but if it happens they answer right back with a score of their own. That's exactly what happened here, as Flodstom ran in his first TD of the game to tie it up 7-7. Kelley started the drive with a tough 14 yard run, followed by a big 3rd down conversion where Ball hit Hunter Long for a 9 yard completion on 3rd and 7 from his own 47 yard line. Flodstom then rushed for a 15 yard pickup on his first carry of the game, before breaking loose for the 24 yard TD on his next carry. Now it's all tied 7-7, 2:46 left in the 1st quarter.
"Kyle seems to be getting better every day" said Coach Ball.
Exeter kept that momentum going, as Tyler Boudreau mad a nice tackle and then Cicchini picked off a long pass attempt by DiCesare. The Blue Hawks turned the ball right back over, though. Quimby ran for 12 yards, then Ball completed a 15 yard pass to Michell Herrington. But then Exeter fumbled and it was recovered by Joey Auger for the Clippers on the 10 yard line.
Portsmouth was unable to capitalize on the turnover and was forced to punt. Exeter ball, and Ball connects with Long again, this time for a 17 yard completion. Kelley runs for a 20 yard gain. Portsmouth is called for off-sides, bringing up 1st and 5 from the PHS 7 yard line. From there Flodstrom ran in a a 7 yard TD, his second score of the 1st half. Exetr takes their first lead (which they would not relinquish) 14-7 with 7:44 left in the 2nd quarter.
Later in the 2nd quarter DiCesare was again connecting on his passes and Portsmouth was threatening to tie the score back up. He hit Tristan Mellynchuck for a 12 yard gain. Then on 3rd and 9 from his 0wn 47 yard line he hit Shon Parham for a 20 yard gain. Then it was 1st and goal from the 4 yard line. Exeter forced 3 straight incomplete passes, with strong coverage by Ball and Quimby. Then it was 4th down and Portsmouth elected to go for a field goal instead of the touchdown. Pafford kicked a 21 yard FG and it was 14-10 Exeter, with 8.4 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. It was 14-10 Blue Hawks at halftime.
Exeter ball to start the 2nd half, and the Blue Hawks take a 2 score lead. They go back to the ground game, with an 11 yard run by Kelley and a 13 yard run by Flodstrom. Then came two big plays by the sophomore QB Kyle Ball. On 3rd and 5 from the PHS 40 yard line Ball kept it himself, ran to the right side, got a block, ran up field, spun off a tackle and picked up a 15 yard gain and 1st down. Then Ball threw a 23 yard TD pass to Kelley. A great throw by Ball, showing his ability to both run and pass. Now it is 21-10 Exeter, 8:36 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
"We liked our chances on that play with Auger defending the pass" said Portsmouth head coach Brian Pafford. "Auger's our fastest guy, another 2 inches and he has that ball."
On the Clipper's ensuing possession DiCesare completed an 8 yard pass to Formichelli on 3rd and 7 from his own 32 yard line. Portsmouth kept moving down field with the passing game, but then DiCesare's pass was picked off by Quimby on his own 16 yard line.
After an Exeter punt Portsmouth gets the ball back and this time punch it into the end zone. DiCesare threw a long pass down the left sideline, and Mellynchuck made a tremendous catch for a 32 yard gain. Then came a HUGE play, 4th down and 6 for Portsmouth on the EHS 15 yard line. DiCesare drops back and throws a laser to Auger for the 15 yard touchdown. It's not over yet. 21-17 Blue Hawks, 17.1 seconds left in the 3rd quarter.
But just like Exeter is known to do, if they get scored on they answer right back with a score of their own. They go back to the running game, with Flodstrom and Kelley leading the way. Flodstrom with a 20 yard run, then Kelley runs it to the 2 yard line. From there, Cicchini dives in from 2 yards out for the touchdown. 28-17 Exeter, 10:10 left in the 4th quarter.
It was a 2 score game again, but with plenty of time left you still can't count out Portsmouth and their quick strike offense. However, Exeter's defense continued to step up. Quimby, Henry and David Harvey all swarmed the football for a hit, forcing Portsmouth to punt.
"Exeter and Bedford fly to the football like no one else in our division" said Coach Pafford. "They're phenomenal."
Portsmouth would only get one more possession, and it resulted in a turnover on downs. Exeter wins 28-17.
"This definitely gives us a lot of motivation" said DiCesare. "We need to really bring it from here on."
Both Exeter and Portsmouth are now 4-2 on the season.