By: Jeremy Leveille
This was a huge game for the Pinkerton Astros. The defending D-I champs started the season off 5-0 and were ranked by many as the #1 team in the state. But then they lost 2 of their next 3 games, and needed a win in on Friday night vs. Exeter (7-1 coming in) or else they were likely out of the playoffs.
Pinkerton was watching their playoff hopes fall by the way side, as Exeter had the football and was running the clock out, leading 12-7 with just 3 minutes left.
Then it happened. An Exeter fumble gives Pinkerton the ball back with 2:56 left. Astros QB Ryan Albrecht leads his team down the field, connected with receiver James Tulley (6 catches for 72 yards) on a pair of crucial pass plays, one for 17 yards and one that went for 12 yards. Just like that Pinkerton was threatening, on the Blue Hawks 22 yard line with 2:14 remaining.
A nice hit by Exeter's Brian Doucette brought up 4th and 2 for Pinkerton on the EHS 14 yard line. Albrecht again made a big play, and again connected with Tulley, this time for an 8 yard gain and 1st down. Then Nico Buccieri runs in the game-winning touchdown from 6 yards out with 33 seconds left. The Astros sideline celebrates in jubilation, as they re-take the lead 13-12.
Exeter retains possession for one last desperation chance to win it. But they are unable to make any big plays down the field. Ryan Philibotte makes a good hit, and the game ends with Pinkerton winning it 13-12 in a thriller.
Exeter still makes the playoffs, but they are heading there on a 2 game losing streak.
Albrecht had 109 yards passing and 20 yards rushing to lead the way. Senior RB Brett Dattilo rushed for 76 yards, while teammate Mike Curley scored Pinkerton's lone TD in the 1st half on a 3 yard carry.
Exeter shot themselves in the foot, not only by fumbling the football with 3 minutes left in the game but also because they missed a PAT on their first touchdown and they came up short on their 2 point conversion attempt on their second TD. If the Blue Hawks converted on those attempts they would have won this game.
Exeter's 2 touchdowns came on a 7 yard pass from QB Kyle Ball to Mason Wallace, and on a 2 yard TD run by Ball. The Blue Hawks however, were held scoreless for the entire 2nd half.
This game had a packed house, and with both teams bands playing and with playoff implications it made for a great atmosphere. Exeter had possession first, but Ball was sacked Tyler Gendron and the Blue Hawks were quickly forced to punt.
Pinkerton then gets the ball, and has good field position for their first drive, on their own 40 yard line. Blue Hawks captain DJ O'Donnell made a nice tackle to stuff the run, but then Dattilo picks up a 5 yard gain on 3rd and 3 from the PA 47 yard line for the 1st down. The drive stalls though, as Albrecht is pressured out of the pocket and forced into an incompletion. The Astros punt it away.
On Exeter's ensuing drive Caleb Giddons and Joey Lydick team up for a nice hit for no gain. But then Ball keeps the drive going, picking up a 6 yard gain on 3rd and 3 from the EHS 27 yardline as he faked the hand-off and kept it himself and ran with it. Then Exeter RB Cam Flanagan (38 rushing yards) runs for a 14 yard gain followed by a 10 yard run. Jackson Allen (49 rushing yards) runs for a 14 yard pickup. Ball caps the drive by connecting with Wallace, who makes the catch around the 3 yard line and then barrels his way into the end zone for the score and 7 yard TD reception. The PAT was no good, and it's 6-0 Blue Hawks with 1:51 left in the 1st quarter. A classic Exeter drive, methodically moving the chains and marching down the field, ending in a TD.
Now it's Pinkerton ball, trying to answer back. Dattilo runs for a 1st down, and then Albrecht finds Tulley for a 17 yard pass play. On 3rd and 7 from the PA 39 yard line Albrecht looks to throw it deep. His pass (intended for TE Trystan Brown) falls incomplete, but Exeter is whistled for pass interference. On 4th and 1 from the EHS 37 yard line, Curley takes the hand-off and picks up a 2 yard gain for the 1st down. Exeter's defense keep battling out there, as Wallace makes a terrific play by sacking Albrecht just as he was about to throw the football. Albrecht gets right back up though, and hits Dattilo for a 10 yard screen pass and then keeps it himself for a 12 yard run. Curley caps the drive by running in the TD from 3 yards out. The PAT is good by senior K/P Kyle Cantalupo, and the Astros take the lead, 7-6 with 4:19 left in the 2nd quarter. Both teams had just scored touchdowns on their last drives, and both drives took over 7 minutes off the clock.
Exeter ball, as the Blue hawks now look to regain the lead. Lydick makes a good tackle for the Astros. But then Ball looks down field and connects with big TE Hunter Long for a 24 yard pickup. Ball then runs in the 2 yard TD. The 2 point conversion is no good, and Exeter goes back on top 12-7 with just 41.3 seconds left in the 1st half. It was 12-7 Exeter at halftime.
Pinkerton football to begin the 2nd half. Albrecht hits Buccieri on a short pass that turns into a 14 yard gain. Dattilo shows a good burst up the middle on a 9 yard run for another Astros 1st down. Then on 4th and 6 from the EHS 42 yard line Pinkerton lines up to punt. They hike the ball, but instead of it going all the way back to the punter Cantalupo, the direct snap goes to Dattilo, who races ahead for 7 yards and the 1st down. Albrecht connects with Curley for a 12 yard completion. Just when Pinkerton is really starting to build momentum and threaten to re-take the lead, Albrecht's pass down field on 3rd and 3 is picked off by Long, on his own 8 yard line. A huge play by Long, and definitely a play that if the Astros did lose this game they would look at as a major reason why.
Exeter possession, looking to build on their lead. Kaelan Querios with a good tackle on 'D'. Then Ball throws it down field for Wallace. The Astros defensive back falls down as Wallace makes the catch, and it turns into a 47 yard pickup. But then Pinkerton's defense steps up and the drive stalls. On 4th and 9 from the PA 26 yard line, Ball drops back to pass, but as soon as the ball is snapped 3 Astros defenders are in the backfield chasing him. Querios makes the hit and Ball fumbles it. Exeter recovers, but it's a big loss on the play and turnover on downs.
Pinkerton retains possession, looking to re-take the lead. Albrecht hits Tulley for a 13 yard gain. Wallace makes a good hit on 'D'. Then comes a crucial 4th and 1 conversion attempt from the EHS 39 yard line. Dattilo picks up 4 yards and the 1st down to keep the drive going. But then a holding penalty negates a 1st down run by Albrecht, and then Albrecht is pressured out of the pocket, gets hit and fumbles the ball. O-lineman David Pariseau recovers, but it's an 8 yard loss and the Astros are forced to punt. You hate to have to punt it away in that situation if you're Pinkerton, since you're trailing with just 8:12 left in the 4th quarter and often times Exeter can hold the ball for that long.
But fortunately for the Astros they did get the ball back on the fumble. xeter starts out way back on their own 5 yard line. On 3rd and 6 from their own 11 yard line, Ball makes a big play with a 16 yard run. Then on 3rd and 3 from the EHS 34 yard line Wallace runs for a 14 yard gain and another Blue Hawk 1st down. The clock is ticking, and the Astros' playoff hopes are fading. That's when Exeter fumbles it and in a crowded pile of players from both teams fighting for possession, Pinkerton recovers the fumble. A huge break for the Astros, whose sideline is now revitalized.
Albrecht leads his team down the field for the winning drive, Buccieri runs in the winning TD and the Astros are headed to the playoffs with a thrilling 13-12 victory.