Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bedford Outlasts Exeter in D-I Semis

Written by: Jeremy Leveille
Photo by: Exeter Blue Hawk Photos

Bedford's best player Michael Vailas suffered a season-ending leg injury in last week's playoff win over Concord. Their starting running back Mike Collins suffered a season-ending injury during the first week of the season. But this team just continues to overcome obstacles and win football games. Stepping in for Vailas at QB, Tyler Cibotti rushed for 1 touchdown and passed for another score. His 10 yard TD pass to Taylor Larson turned out to be the winning score, with Cibotti redeeming himself after fumbling the ball on the Exeter 1 yard line.

"Coach told me to not get down, because then my teammates will see it in my eyes" said Cibotti, who was 6/9 passing for 110 yards and 1 TD, plus 19 rushing yards and 1 TD. "So I changed my outlook. It was a post across the middle, the safety bit and I threw it to Taylor Larson. It was a small window but I got it in there. I had faith in our defense to hold them from there."

The Bedford defense did just that, forcing a turnover on downs followed by an interception on Exeter's final 2 possessions. Eric Glassman (who was a beast on 'D' all game) recorded 2 sacks, with the second one coming on 4th down and 7 from midfield to force a turnover on downs. The Blue Hawks got the ball back with one last chance at a comeback, but QB Ryan Ball's pass was intercepted by Danny Flynn. Bedford holds on for the 14-7 win. The Bulldogs will take on Pinkerton in a battle of unbeatens next Saturday at UNH for the D-I championship.

Bedford's defense has been dominant all season and that continued in the semi-finals vs. Exeter. They did a great job of containing the feared Blue Hawks running game, forcing them into passing downs and rushing the passer. Glassman and Ryan Belz wreaked havoc all game rushing from the edge. Flynn, Tommy O'Rourke, Bobby Heald, Adam Stone, Christian Josef, Alexander Skillings and Jonathan Hoaglund all stepped up on defense as well. The Bulldogs really flocked to the football and had 3 or 4 helmets in on seemingly every tackle.

"Our defense got hyped up and rallied to the ball" said Glassman. "It was a team effort. On the sacks I hustled to the ball, I never quit. I really wanted to get to the quarterback."

"We're not the biggest defense, so speed has always been key for us" said Bedford head coach Kurt Hines.

This was a game dominated by defense, as both defenses were tough all game and prevented the opposition from getting in a groove. Big plays on offense were few and far between. Bedford had the ball first. They went 3 and out, as Cibotti's pass attempt on 3rd and 5 was nearly picked off by Exeter senior RB/DB Chris Kelley. On the Blue Hawk's first drive they also went 3 and out. It was 3rd and 2 from their own 49 yard line but Bedford stuffed the run for a gain of just 1.

The defense continued on Bedford's next possession, as Cibotti was sacked by the duo of Neil Vorster and Chris Henry. The Bulldogs again went 3 and out.

Exeter ball, and finally someone got a 1st down. On 3rd and 9 from the Bedford 48 yard line Ball connected with TE Matt Oppici. But then the drive stalled, as O'Rourke made a good tackle and then on 3rd and 7 from the BHS 34 yard line Stone and Josef teamed up for a good hit.That brought up 4th and 6 from the Bedford 33 yard line - Ball tried to scramble for it, but was tackled after a gain of just 2, falling short of the 1st down. Turnover on downs.

Bedford ball, and now they were finally able to get some momentum on offense. The drive started with Jackson Allen and Kelley teaming up for a tough hit. But then Colin Cashin (98 yards rushing) rushed for a pair of 1st downs, with the second being a 24 yard carry. Cashin nearly fell but somehow kept his footing and gained another 10+ yards down the right sideline. Then Cibotti hit Thomas Reynolds for a 19 yard completion. It was a great catch by Reynolds, who was somehow able to hold onto the football even with 2 defenders draped all over him. Cibotti capped the drive by sneaking into the end zone on a keeper from the 2 yard line. 7-0 Bulldogs, 10:52 left in the 2nd quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Glassman made possibly the hit of the game, absolutely leveling Exeter's return man at the 14 yard line. Kelley picked up a pair of 1st down runs, with the second one being a 15 yard gain. Then sophomore RB Cam Flanagan rushed for an 11 yard gain. Skillings made a good hit for Bedford, but then on 4th and 5 from the BHS 25 yard line Ball rolled right and hit Nicholas Flodstrom in stride for a 17 yard pass play to set up 1st and goal on the 8 for Exeter. Belz made a good hit, but then on 3rd and goal Ball scrambled towards the goal line from the 5 yard line and dove into the end zone. Oppici's PAT was good and we were all tied up 7-7 with 2:48 left in the 1st half.

Bedford ball, but Henry sacked Cibotti on 3rd and 7 from the BHS 37 yard line. That was one of the bigger hits of the game. Henry isn't the biggest or fastest kid out there, but he's a blue collar kid who plays with a lot of heart and just flies around hitting people. We were tied 7-7 at halftime.

Exeter ball to start the 2nd half. Glassman did a nice job of coming off his block and making yet another great hit. Then Mark Cicchini broke a 15 yard run for a 1st down. The Bulldogs kept gang tackling, with Belz, Heald and Stone all in on a tough hit. Then Heald made a good hit for a loss of 2 yards and the Blue Hawks were forced to punt.

On Bedford's ensuing drive, Cibotti nearly completed a 1st down pass but Ball was there with great coverage defensively to break up the pass. The Bulldogs punted it away.

Then came a drive for Exeter that would turn out to be crucial in deciding the outcome of this game. Ball picked up a 1st down on the ground. On 3rd and 8 from the Bedford 38 yard line Flanagan was gang tackled, with Stone and Belz leading the charge. That brought up a pivotal 4th and 5 for Exeter on the BHS 35 yard line - Ball scrambled for a 7 yard gain and the 1st down (yeah, this Ball kid is pretty good for a sophomore). Bedford's 'D' was hanging tough, as Belz and Hoaglund teamed up for a good tackle. Again, Bedford's defense was stopping the run and forcing Exeter into passing downs, as it was now 3rd and 8 from the BHS 15 yard line. And again, they were covering Exeter's tight ends which forced Ball to try and run it. He picked up 5 yards this time, but it wasn't enough for the 1st down. So now it was 4th and 2 on the 10. Oppici was brought in to attempt a 27 yard field goal. The kick was no good, and w were still tied up 7-7. Bedford had just dodged a major bullet.

Bedford looks to take advantage of that good fortune and re-take the lead. Cibotti hit Larson for a 36 yard completion, and then he threw a 12 yard pass to Reynolds and a 26 yard run by Cashin. Exeter's defense is even tougher around the goal line, and Cashin's carry from the 2 was stopped short of the goal line. That brought up 4th and goal from the 1. Cibotti had running room on the left side, but as he started making his move that way he lost his footing, slipped and fumbled the ball. Kelley recovered the fumble in the end zone for Exeter. The Blue Hawks had just dodged a major bullet.

Exeter goes 3 and out. Bedford gets the ball back and this time they finish the drive rather than missing an opportunity. Cibotti completed a 30 yard pass to Andrew Penaskovic. Penaskovic juggled the ball but kept his focus and still managed to haul it in. That pass is a major reason why Bedford is moving on to the title game. Then came a crucial 3rd down conversion attempt for the Bulldogs from the Exeter 10 yard line. That's when Cibotti dropped back to pass and connected with Larson for the 10 yard TD pass. A great throw by Cibotti, who had a very small window to fit the ball into. And a great catch by Larson, who had to adjust to a low pass and haul it in with a defender all over him. Now it's 14-7 Bedford with 6:07 left in the 4th quarter.

"Cibotti showed good poise on that throw" said Coach Hines. "He's a better passer than Vailas."

Exeter possession. They have plenty of time left, but they really need a TD on this drive. Glassman sacked the QB, and then on 3rd and 14 Ball had an open man in the flat for a screen pass. But the pass was under-thrown and fell incomplete. Exeter elected to punt it away on 4th and long, running the risk that by punting it to Bedford they may not get the ball back. Luckily for the Blue Hawks, Bedford was called for a roughing the punter penalty which gave possession back to Exeter. Unfortunately for the Blue Hawks time was ticking down and they're a grind it out type of offense rather than an explosive, big play offense. Ball completes a pass to hane Quimby, but he's immediately swarmed by Bedford defenders and brought down for just a 4 yard gain. That brings up 4th and 7 from midfield, and that's when Glassman sacked Ball yet again for the turnover on downs. A huge defensive stand for the Bulldogs.

Bedford ball with only 2:00 left, hoping to run the clock down. But Exeter's defense stepped up and forced a quick 3 and out. Exeter gets the ball back, but they had no timeouts left. Ball's pass is intercepted by Flynn, who fumbled it right after he picked it off. Bedford recovers the fumble. Bulldogs possession with only 1:32 left in regulation. Since Exeter has no more timeouts Bedford is able to kneel it down a couple of times and end it. Bedford wins 14-7.

Bedford advances to their third title game in the last 4 years, with each time being in a higher division. In 2011 they fell to Portsmouth in the D-III championship and in 2012 they lost to Winnacunnet in the D-II final. Now they take on Pinkerton in the D-I title game next Saturday at 6 pm at UNH. Both Pinkerton and Bedford are undefeated, 11-0. Pinkerton advances to the title game by crushing Bishop Guertin 35-0 in other semi-final match up that was played today. Pinkerton is coasting into the title game while Bedford had to win a battle in order to get there. Will that be a factor in determining the outcome next Saturday? Perhaps.

"Us having to play Exeter this round helps us and gives us an edge vs. Pinkerton" said Coach Hines.

1 comment:

  1. What a game! Bedford's defense is just too good, and they also had a dropped pass from a wide open receiver that would have been another touchdown. Will be a great Bedford / Pinkerton matchup!

    The right teams are in the championship.