By: Jeremy Leveille
It's usually the skill position guys (QB, RB, WR) who get all the headlines. But I'll come right out and say it - the MVP of Friday night's D-I showdown between Nashua North and Manchester Central at Gill Stadium was the front 7 of North. Led by Greg Stanton, Michael Muchemore, Phillip Pereira, John Littlefield, Shane LeGraw and Dylan Salazar the Titans defense wreaked havoc, making life difficult all game for the Central o-line and their QBs Anthony Dimauro and Jacob Stanko.
The North 'D' constantly had their guys in the back field, resulting in at least 4 or 5 sacks, plus a ton of tackles for little or no gain. They held Central scoreless for the nearly the entire game. It wasn't until just 6:21 left in the 4th quarter when the Little Green finally scored, and by that time the Titans were already up 21-0. North just has a bunch of big kids in their front 7 who are fast - they were flying around, hitting people and making plays.
North also has a pair of dangerous RBs on offense, with junior Jordan Buckmire (115 yards rushing and 1 TD) and senior Devin Leonard (75 yards rushing and 1 TD). In an interesting move by first-year head coach Dante Laurendi, Buckmire got all of the carries in the 1st half, while Leonard got all but 1 of the carries in the 2nd half.
Both teams were flip-flopping their QBs as well. Central started Stanko (3/6 passing for 40 yards and 1 TD pass), but Dimauro (15/22 for 172 yards) ended up seeing more action. Meanwhile for North, Jeff Baldassari (5/7 passing for 77 yards) started and got more of the playing time, but it was Jared Levesque who threw the team's lone TD pass. Both Central QBs are seniors, while both of the Titans' signal callers are only juniors.
Things didn't start off so well for North, as it was Central's defense which impressed early on. After a 15 yard run by Buckmire, senior DE Alex Autemrieth stepped up to make a nice tackle a couple plays later. Then on 3rd and 11 out of the shotgun, Baldassari's short pass was complete but the ball was knocked loose and the fumble was recovered by Central junior lineman Noah Chantasiri.
On Central's first drive they marched down the field, advance deep into Titans' territory before coming up empty. Pereira made a good hit on 'D'. On 3rd and 9 from the North 26 yard line Stanko hit Jason Lam (7 catches for 99 yards) for a 5 yard completion. Then on 4th and 1 from the North 21 yard line Josh Thrasher rushed for a 7 yard gain and the 1st down. On 3rd and 16 from the North 20 yard line, Stanko connected with Nick Tyler for a 7 yard pass play. Zach Elliott was then brought in to attempt a 37 yard field goal. The kick was no good, and we're still scoreless. Central had 6 different kids catch passes in this game (Lam, Tyler, Alex Revere, Andy Hawes, Jeremyiah Rivera and James Tanguay).
The defensive battle continued on North's ensuing drive. Stanko made a nice tackle for Central's defense. It's not often you see a kid who plays QB on offense play DE on defense, but that's the case with Stanko - he's a tough kid. Then a short pass turns into a long gain, as Buckmire makes a 35 yard reception. He has good speed and explosiveness. Buckmiore runs for a 10 yard gain. Autemrieth makes another nice tackle. Then, with Levasque in at QB, he throws an interception which is picked off by Central senior DB Dylan Lindergren.
Both of the Titans' first 2 drives resulted in turnovers. Central however, was unable to capitalize on either of them.
The ensuing Little Green possession starts way back on their own 12 yard line. Littlefield makes a nice tackle. Littlefield is a big kid and only a junior, could have some nice upside at the next level. Dimauro is now in at QB for Central. Stanton makes a nice hit on 'D'. Dimauro then connects with lam on a 12 yard pass on a slant route. Lam is a good receiver - he's quick and he flat out catches everything thrown his way. The passing game continues to work for Central, as DiMauro throws a deep one down field for Revere, who makes a terrific grab and shows athletic moves in the open field to pick up additional yards. The play went for a 41 yard gain (the longest play of the game by either team). But then on 3rd and 12 from the North 24 yard line DiMauro was sacked. The first of many sacks on the game for the Titans' defense. DiMauro's pass on 4th down was tipped by LeGraw and fell incomplete. Turnover on downs.
On North's ensuing drive we finally get out first points. Baldassari hits Josh Rodriguez with a nice pass for a 22 yard gain. Buckmire then rushed for 3 straight 1st downs, including runs of 13 and 20 yards. Buckmire caps the drive with a 1 yard TD carry. Jack Stone kicks the PAT (he was 3/3 on PATs) and it's 7-0 Titans with 8:32 left in the 2nd quarter.
Stanko goes back in at QB for Central on their next possession. The Little Green were quickly forced to punt. Central certainly showed the ability to move the football through the air, but they were unable to establish the run in this game and that was clearly a reason why they were on the losing end. The Little Green managed just 27 yards rushing on the game.
North ball, and they complete a 24 yard pass to big WR Steve Lambert, another kid who's a junior with a high upside. Lambert dragged 4 Central defenders for an extra 5 yards at the end of that play, impressive stuff. Then Levesque connects with a wide open LeGraw, who goes virtually untouched into the end zone for a 32 yard TD pass. It's 14-0 North, with 3:00 left in the 2nd quarter.
Central ball, looking to get on the board before the half and get back in the game. DiMauro finds Lam down field for a 41 yard pass. Then it was 4th and 1 for Central on the North 21 yard line. The hand-off goes to Thrasher, who gets hit hard by Salazar and the ball comes loose. It's recovered by North.
Central had 3 drives in the 1st half where they advanced inside the North 25 yard line - they came away each of those drives with 0 points - that was the difference in the game.
It was 14-0 North at halftime.
Central ball to begin the 2nd half. Thrasher runs for a 13 yard gain. But then Muchemore makes a nice tackle, resulting in a 3 yard loss. DiMauro hits Lam for a 14 yard pass play. But this is when the North front 7 really started to take over, as the Titans' sacked DiMauro on back-to-back plays. The first one it was Pereira and Muchemore teaming up for the sack, and the second one it was Muchemore again leading the charge. Turnover on downs for the Little Green.
Central quickly gets the ball back, but that North front 7 just continues to dominate the Central o-line. Pereira brought a tenacious pass rush, forcing an incomplete pass. Then it was Muchemore with yet another sack. Central punts it away.
North puts Baldassari back in at QB, but they again are forced to quickly punt it away.
Central gets the ball back. Did I mention that North front 7 is pretty good? Stanton made another great hit in the backfield, for a loss of yardage. Then it was Stanton again with another nice hit. Central lines up to punt, but the snap was mishandled so their punter is forced to try and run for the 1st down. He is brought down far short of the marker, resulting in a turnover on downs.
North put the game on ice with a TD on their ensuing drive. Levesque is now back in at QB. Leonard shows great determination on an 11 yard run - he was THIS close to being down after a very short gain, but stayed on his feet and kept them moving for those extra yards. Leonard then runs for a 10 yard gain, and then runs the TD in from the 1 yard line. 21-0 Titans, with 9:10 left in the 4th quarter.
Central really needs a TD here to stay alive in this game. But again there's that North front 7, as Stanton makes a nice open field tackle to stop Central after just a 2 yard gain. On the next play they get 5 guys in the backfield literally as soon as the ball is snapped - junior DB Levi Gosselin makes the tackle. Just when it looked likes this thing was all over, Central comes back to life. DiMauro hits Tanguay for a 14 yard pass play, and then Stanko throws a strike to Tanguay for a 28 yard TD pass. It's 21-7 North, with just 6:21 left in the 4th quarter.
North ball, and they run the clock out with Leonard getting the carries. Baldassari takes a knee, and the Titans win it on Central's home field 21-7. Both teams now have identical 3-2 records on the season, but clearly North looked like the better team on this night.