By: Ross Laorenza
The Salem Blue Devils were victorious Friday night defeating the Winnacunnet Warriors 26-21. Salem came from behind twice times in the game, trailing 7-0 and 21-14 taking the lead with just over two minutes t play in regulation. Both teams excelled on defense in the early going as they traded unsuccessful possession deep into the first quarter. Winnacunnet’s Brian Auffant (#16) broke the scoring draught with a rushing TD with 3:47 remaining in the first.
Salem captain Sean Nartiff knotted the game at seven on Salem’s first possession of the 2nd quarter. Nartiff plunged up the middle for a two yard rushing TD on the scoring play. The Warriors drove deep into Salem territory on their ensuing drive, but a risky fourth down attempt turned the ball back over to Salem on downs. Two plays later Charles Sibanda (#22) rushed off tackle, untouched for a 59 yard TD rush that put Salem ahead 14-7.
The Blue Devils had a chance to extend their lead late midway through the second. A nifty half-back pass to Matt Ayotte (#9) put the ball inside the Winnacunnet 20 yard line. But, after two timeouts to go over their final attempt the pass from Matthew Soldano (#10) tipped off the fingers of the intended receiver and to the ground.
Winnacunnet would capitalize on the turnover on downs, driving the length of the field in the final four minutes to tie the game at 14. Brian Auffant was crucial on the drive catching key passes out of the backfield and keeping the Salem defense off guard with a solid ground game. Mike Lewis chipped in as well with several punishing rushes as he bowled over defenders towards the first down marker. In the end it would be Auffant punching in the five yard rushing touchdown for the Warriors. At the end of the first half, Winnacunnet: 14, Salem: 14.
Winnacunnet began the second half with a lengthy drive into Salem territory. The drive came to a crashing holt when Salem was able to recvover a fumble forced on an interior rush. Nartiff recovered for Salem. The Blue Devils could not capitalize on the turnover, as their own drive quickly stalled.
On the ensuing Warrior drive a heavy dose of Mike Lewis helped wear down Salem’s interior defense. With the defense clambering all over him, QB Patrick MacDougall was able to find an open Brian Auffant who scampered in for the go-ahead score. 21-14: Winnacunnet.
Salem’s defense would hold the Warriors scoreless for the remainder of the game. It was up to the Blue Devil offense to start the comeback. Facing 3rd and nine from the opponent’s 24 yard line Charles Sibanda was able to score his second TD of the game, putting the Blue Devil’s within one point of tying. A missed extra point attempt left Salem trailing into the last few minutes of the game.
With 2:22 remaining Nicholas Shumski (#7) took the hand off right and raced up the sideline. The 41 yard touchdown was Salem’s fourth rushing TD of the game and put the Blue Devils up 26-21. Salem tried a 2-point conversion but it was unsuccessful. Winnacunnet needed a touchdown on their final drive to take the lead. They appeared to complete a long pass down field on third and ten, but MacDougall had passed the line of scrimmage as he evaded the rush and the play was called back for an illegal forward pass. On the following play MacDougall’s intended pass was picked off by linebacker Jacob Dufton (#59) sealing the victory for Salem. Final score, Salem: 26, Winnacunnet: 21.
“We practice that all the time, defending the two minute drill,” said Salem head coach Rob Pike. “It’s a great win. That’s a good football team,” said Pike the opposing Warriors. “Our kids played hard and tough, and to come out with a win against them is a good feeling.”
From Salem High School in Salem, New Hampshire. Ross Laorenza: New Hampshire Notebook