NHIAA D-IV Football Championship: Young Bobcats have come a long way
Two months ago, the Plymouth Bobcats and their contingent of first-year starters might not have recovered from a 10-7 halftime deficit. Brandon Goodale had yet to establish himself as one of the division's top backs, and quarterback Collin Sullivan had yet to attempt a dozen passes in his varsity career.
Now look at Plymouth, once again undefeated after pulverizing St. Thomas of Dover in the second half of the Division IV semifinals. The Bobcats (10-0) erased Saturday's halftime deficit, scoring 35 straight points in a 42-17 home win. They host Trinity of Manchester (9-1) in Saturday's championship at 1 p.m.
The Bobcats entered the year with 13 first-year starters - six on offense and seven on defense - carrying a big question mark into the regular season. There was nothing automatic about winning 10 straight games and earning a home-field advantage for the postseason.
"We honestly didn't know what would come out of this season because we lost so many seniors and had a bunch of new kids," said Sullivan, a junior. "We've grown a lot as a team."
Sullivan has become a double-threat, passing for 11 touchdowns and rushing for five more. On a key fourth down last week, Sullivan rolled out and fired a 26-yard pass to Kyle Hodges for his only pass play of the game.
Goodale has rushed for more than 1,200 yards this season and scored 19 touchdowns via rushing, receiving, special teams and interception returns. Running backs John Thomas and Jared Kuehl have combined to rush for more than 1,000 yards, which might pale in comparison to their accomplishments on defense. The hard-hitting linebackers bottled up St. Thomas last week, and fellow linebacker Goodale returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
Plymouth charged out of halftime, orchestrating a 13-play 78-yard drive to begin the third quarter. The possession was a test of the team's mettle, and the Bobcats passed with flying colors.
"We were a little down on ourselves at halftime, but we stuck together and kept playing Plymouth football," Sullivan said.
The Bobcats will need a complete four-quarter effort to handle the Pioneers, who beat Plymouth in last year's final, 30-14, at Manchester's Gill Stadium. Trinity, likewise, can't afford to make mistakes in the Land of Lenahan. Since taking over the program in 1971, Plymouth coach Chuck Lenahan has won a New England-record 344 games and sent 30 teams to the finals. Lenahan has won 18 titles and coached 12 undefeated teams.
"These kids work hard and have a great attitude, that's for sure," Lenahan said. "We had a lot of new faces this year, but you never underestimate a group. We knew we had some good kids with some talent."