Timberlane and Exeter. They were hyped up in the preseason as two of the better teams in the state. And this was hyped up as the biggest game on opening night of the NH high school football season. It lived up to the hype.
The two teams battled it out, fighting each other tooth and nail for four quarters. It was an even match-up. Both teams have dangerous play makers at QB who can hurt you through the air or on the ground (Kyle Ball for Exeter and Timberlane's Jason Hughes). Both teams have hard hitters on defense, like Mason Wallace and Jackson Allen for Exeter and the Hall twins - Austin and Travis for Timberlane.
So what as the difference? Penalties. The Owls got whistled for a roughing the kicker penalty in the 4th quarter, they had a touchdown run called back due to a holding call and also got called for a late hit which led to Exeter's second touchdown. Both infractions proved to be costly to Timberlane's chances, resulting in a 14-9 win for the Blue Hawks.
"I was very pleased with how we played" said Timberlane head coach Kevin Fitzgerald. "A lot of people are saying Exeter is one of the top teams in the state, that they could win it - we're not far off. Penalties hurt us. I need to do a better job of having us more disciplined in certain situations."
The play of the game however was made by Timberlane. After their TD was called back due to holding (on a 29 yard TD run by Jacob Post on a reverse play) it brought up 4th down and 17 for the Owls on the Exeter 36 yard line. Hughes looked to throw but the pocket quickly collapses. He scrambled out of the pocket, evading multiple defenders before sprinting in for the 36 yard TD. It was a great effort and a hell of a run by Hughes. He also got a nice block on the play by Cam Altobelli around the 25 yard line which freed up some running room down the right sideline.
"He makes something out of nothing" said Coach Fitzgerald. "He's an athlete an a competitor. Their QB is pretty good but so is ours. I wouldn't trade him for any QB in the league."
Hughes rushed for 87 yards on the game and 1 TD. He was 4/15 passing for 63 yards. Ball meanwhile was 4/6 passing for 34 yards and rushed for 138 yards and 1 TD. His TD came on a QB sneak from the 1 yard line, and Exeter's other score came on a 9 yard run by Sam Kalish. It was 7-0 Exeter at halftime, while Timberlane's first score of the contest came on a 37 yard field goal by Hughes.
Following Hughes' big TD run, the 2 point conversion was no good, as Hughes' pass intended for Kyle Faucher was incomplete.So Exeter got the ball back, up 14-9 with 9:27 left in the 4th quarter. On 3rd and 7 from their own 44 yard line Zach Thibeault and Trevor Guilmette teamed up to sack Ball. The Blue Hawks were forced to punt, but that's when the Owls got called for the roughing the kicker penalty. After a 12 yard run by Ball, Evan Royer was brought in to attempt a 30 yard FG. The snap was low, and Royer was tackled behind the line of scrimmage. The turnover gave the football back to Timberlane, but now they got the ball back with only 1:12 left as opposed to about 7 minutes left if they didn't get called for the roughing the kicker penalty.
Hughes made a valiant effort in that last 1:12 to try and lead his team down the field, hitting Post on a pair of completions. But then he was intercepted by Hunter Long and that sealed the win for Exeter. Long was a force on both sides of the ball for the Blue Hawks.
Both teams had dropped passes in the 1st half which could have been touchdowns. On Timberlane's first drive Hughes threw a deep ball intended for Post down the right sideline, hitting him right in stride. It would have likely been a TD if it was caught, but the ball went off Post's facemask and fell to the ground. Meanwhile, On Exeter's final drive of the 1st half Austin Hall sacked Ball which brought up 4th and 13 from the Owls' 26 yard line. Ball then looked to the end zone, firing a pass to Wallace. The pass went off Wallace's hands and incomplete.
The late hit penalty in the 2nd half on Timberlane came at the end of an explosive 32 yard run by Ball. Allen followed it up with a 12 yard run, followed by the 9 yard TD scamper by Kalish, as Exeter grabbed the momentum right back from Timberlane after the Owls had just got on the board with the 37 yard FG by Hughes.
Zachary Makepeace, Alan Rendo and Brendan Frezza also played well for the Owls, while Exeter got value contributions from Cameron Flanagan, Brian DoucetteAndrew Cicchini and david O'Donnell.