A game that had been hyped up for the past 2 months lived up to it. There was a playoff spot on the line, 5 lead changes, too many big plays to count and a controversial ending. In the end it was Londonderry who pulled out the victory, as backup kicker Nick Donnelly booted a 28 yard field goal with 1.5 seconds remaining and the Lancers beat Salem 23-21. Londonderry now advances to the playoffs where they will play at #1 ranked Pinkerton next Saturday. As for Salem it was a heartbreaking loss and a tough way for their season to end.
Salem took a 21-20 lead with just 1:39 left as junior Sean Nartiff ran it in from 3 yards out. It was do or die time for Londonderry. Senior QB/DB Eric Fairweather led his team down the field with key passes to Jimmy Nee and Michael Ryan. The Lancers got to the 12 yard line and took their last timeout. Out they decided to attempt a field goal with 18 seconds left even though it was only 3rd down. The kick was blocked by Salem, there was a scramble for the ball, and the fumble was recovered by Casey Brackett for Londonderry. That gave the Lancers another shot at the FG from 28 yards out and this time Donnelly's kick was good.
"We practice that (the 2 minute drill) every week, and our hard work paid off" said Fairweather, who rushed for 2 touchdowns and also intercepted a pass on defense. "We had great play calling by coach and the o-line protected me. Salem is a great team, and this was the most exciting game I've ever played in. We're pumped to be moving on."
Donnelly's kick was good with 1.5 seconds left to make it 23-21 Londonderry. The Lancers celebrated on the field and some of their fans stormed onto the field to celebrate with them, but since there was still time on the clock they got whistled for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Salem had one last shot, with possession at their own 49 yard line. Blue Devils QB John Cerretani dropped back to throw it deep, but his pass was picked off. Game over.
Londonderry struck first on the game's opening drive. Patrick Hughes made a nice tackle for Salem. Then on a crucial 3rd down and 2 conversion attempt from The Salem 48 yard line Fairweather kept it, ran it right up the middle and broke loose for a 48 yard TD run. Just 53 seconds into the game and it was already 7-0 Lancers.
A good kick return by Nick Shumski gave Salem strong field position at midfield. But Londonderry's defense was up to the challenge. On 4th and 1 from the LHS 41 yard line Bartose was stopped for no gain. Michael Ryan and Gary Richard were in on the hit. Turnover on downs.
Londonderry gets the ball back and nearly takes a quick 2 score lead. RB Dennis Bishop sprinted for a 42 yard run, and if not for a Salem defender somehow catching up to Bishop and bringing him down he would have gone for the TD. Instead it was 1st and 10 Lancers on the Salem 17 yard line. Austin Homsey made a good hit for the Blue Devils 'D'. Then Londonderry was whistled for an illegal procedure penalty, bringing up 4th and 16. Donnelly was brought in to attempt a 40 yard FG and it was no good. Salem had dodged a bullet and still only trailed 7-0.
Salem football, trying to capitalize on Londonderry's missed opportunity. Matt Rimol made a great tackle for the Lancers. Then it was 3rd and 11 from back on their own 19 yard line. Cerretani hit Homsey with a short dump off pass right before he was about to get hit. Homsey picked up 23 yards and the 1st down. Then Bartose kept the drive going with a 2 yard run on 4th and 1 from the LHS 37 yard line. Londonderry was then whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, resulting in 1st and goal for the Blue Devils on the 9 yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 7 Cerretani hit a wide open Shumski on a fade route in the end zone for a 7 yard TD pass. 11:56 left in the 2nd quarter and now we're tied up 7-7.
Momentum continues to shift in Salem's favor. Londonderry ball on their own 34 yard line. Fairweather fumbles it, and the ball gets knocked back towards the LHS end zone, bouncing all the way to the 20 yard line. Players from both teams scramble to recover the fumble, and finally it's recovered by Salem's Ben Emerson on the LHS 11 yard line. The Blue Devils capitalize, as Bartose runs in the TD from 4 yards out. Cerretani runs in the 2 point conversion and it's 15-7 Salem with 10:52 left in the 2nd quarter. So after Londondery had come THIS close to going up 14-0, Salem had no scored 2 TDs in 64 seconds to take their first lead.
Lancers ball trying to answer back. Kyle Byrd made a good return to give his team strong field position on the Salem 47 yard line. Bishop busted loose for a 35 yard run to the Salem 11 yard line. Then it was 3rd and 13 from the SHS 12 yard line. Fairweathr's pass to the end zone was overthrown and fell incomplete out of bounds. The Lancers brought Donnelly back in to attempt a 29 yard FG but it was no good. That's 2 trips to the red zone now where the Lancers came away empty. If they had lost this game they would have pointed at those 2 possessions as the reason why.
Salem ball, but again Londonderry's defense stepped up. Rimol mad another nice hit and the Blue devils were forced to punt. Londondery possession now, looking to even the score. Senior defensive tackle Connor Mullins made a couple of nice tackles and the Lancers were forced to punt.
On Salem's ensuing drive, Cerretani threw a deep pass that was intercepted by Fairweather. It was a jump ball, with Fairweather leaping up and battling witbh the Salem receiver for it in mid air, but Fairweather managed to come down with the football. Londonderry capitalizes on the turnover. On 3rd and 11 from back on their own 43 yard line Fairweather connects with Ryan for a 30 yard completion. But the play was called back due to a holding penalty on Londonderry. Now it was 3rd and 24 for the Lancers from their own 29 yard line. LHS really had their backs again their wall here. But you can never count out the Lancers with this high octane, explosive offense. Fairweather completed a pass to Jimmy Nee, who broke a tackle and sprinted up the left sideline 71 yards for the TD. Fairweather tried to run in the 2 point conversion for the tie but was denied. As a result Salem was still clinging to a 15-13 lead with 3:04 left in the 1st half.
Salem ball, and Byrd hit Cerretani as he attempted a pass. The fumble was recovered by Brackett for the Lancers. Londonderry was unable to capitalize on the turnover, as Salem's defense stepped up. On 4th down and 4 from the Salem 21 yard line, Mullins rushed Fairweather with some good pressure and then made the sack for a loss of 7 yards. It was 15-13 Salem at halftime.
Salem ball to start the 2nd half, looking to build on their 2 point lead. On 3rd and 3 from their own 32 yard line Bartose rushed for 5 yards and the 1st down. Charles Sibanda then rushed for a 16 yard gain. Then came another one of the game's many BIG plays. Cerretani attempted a pass but Brackett was right there and batted the pass. Instead of batting it down he actually batted it up, and then Brackett caught the ball for the interception. He then rumbled all the way down to the Salem 21 yard line before Cerretani was able to bring him down.
This time Londonderry did capitalize on the turnover. Byrd rushed for an 18 yard gain, setting up 1st and goal on the 3 yard line. Fairweather rushed in from the 3 yard line for the score. The PAT was good and it was 20-15 Londonderry with 8:02 left in the 3rd quarter.
Salem ball, trying to answer back. But Richard made another good hit for the Lancers and Salem was forced to punt. Londonderry football, and Fairweather scampers for a 12 yard gain on 3rd and 7 from his own 47 yard line. Then Nartiff sacks Fairweather. Then came another crucial 3rd down conversion attempt. It was 3rd and 9 from the Salem 40 yard line. Fairweather was just about to get hit and threw up a prayer. His high, wobbly pass was somehow caught by a teammate, as David Wiedenfeld came down with it for an 11 yard gain and 1st down. But then the Lancers were called for 2 holding penalties, bringing up 4th down and 27 from the Salem 33 yard line. Fairweather's pass fell incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Salem ball, looking to re-take the lead. Cerretani hits Shumski for a 13 yard completion. Bartose was making some tough runs, picking up a pair of 1st downs. But then on 4th down and 4 from the LHS 26 yard line Cerretain's pass fell incomplete. Turnover on downs. Londonderry ball, with the 5 point lead with under 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Ideally they would eat some clock here and hopefully get another score on the board. But Salem's 'D' wouldn't let that happen and they forced a quick punt to get the ball back.
Salem ball trailing 20-15 with under 6 minutes left. The most important drive of their season. Sibanda runs for a 24 yard gain, followed by a 10 yard run by Bartose. Then Josh Brathwaite made a good hit in the backfield for Londonderry. erretani hits Homsey for an 8 yard completion, and then Bartose picks up just enough for the 1st down on 4th and 1 from the LHS 11 yard line. That sets up 1st and goal from the 10. Then the ball squirted loose and bounces towards the end zone. Kenny Calabrese recovers it for Salem on the Londonderry 3 yard line. Nartiff starts on both sides of the ball on the d-line and o-line for Salem. He typically doesn't carry the football. But in this case he took the direct snap and ran it in from 3 yards out. Salem goes ahead 21-20 with 1:39 remaining and you know how the rest went.
A heartbreaking loss for Salem. Their season is now over. Salem is now 7-2 and is without question one of the top 4 teams in the entire state. Yet they are left out of the playoffs, while BG and Alvirne are both in the playoffs with 4-5 records. Concord and Portsmouth are also both in the playoffs with inferior records to Salem's at 6-3.