NHIAA D-I Football Semifinals: Exeter, Pinkerton in rematch for Div. I crown
Exeter players Tyler Grant, left, and Galen Antolino celebrate Grant's touchdown as Manchester Central defender Troy Pelletier (3) looks away during the second half of their Div. I semifinal. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
EXETER - The Manchester Central offense seemed up to the task in Saturday's Division I semifinal against Exeter. The Central defense clearly wasn't.
Exeter halfback Tyler Grant scored four touchdowns - three rushing and one receiving - to help top-seeded Exeter knock of fourth-seeded Central 42-21 at Eustis Field.
"Real happy to be moving on," Exeter coach Bill Ball said. "We knew they were going to be a handful on the offensive side. Our ability to move the ball was huge."
Grant, who also scored four touchdowns when Exeter beat Central 49-0 during the regular season, finished the game with 170 yards rushing on 18 carries. He also had what was arguably the game's biggest play.
Central made it a 28-14 game when quarterback Riley Cote hooked up with Julio Rincon for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 10.3 seconds left in the first half. Central then closed the gap even more when it put together a 15-play, 80-yard TD drive on the opening possession of the second half.
Exeter responded with a four-play 72-yard drive that was capped by Grant's 54-yard TD run. That's when the air seemed to leave the Central balloon.
Exeter punted on its opening possession, but didn't punt after that.
"Our defense did just about as well as it could under the circumstances," Central coach Ryan Ray said. "Exeter doesn't run a lot of plays, but whatever they do they do well. We're a team: offense, defense, special teams. Today we didn't do a good enough job to get the 'W.'"
Exeter (10-1 overall, 9-0 in Division I) will meet second-seeded Pinkerton (10-1, 8-1) in Saturday's Division I championship game. Pinkerton advanced with a 42-3 victory over fourth-seeded Nashua South.
"They had the momentum obviously, after scoring right before the half and then scoring again (in the third quarter)," Grant said. "We needed to get something going to kind of stop that and get it back going our way. The hole was wide open. I just broke a tackle and then ran as fast as I could."
Grant entered the game with 963 yards rushing this season, and passed the 1,000-yard mark in the first half. His TD catch came on a 28-yard pass from quarterback Ethan Joyce.
Joyce (6-yard run) and halfback Jamie Vogt (2-yard run) scored Exeter's other TDs.
Central (6-5, 5-4) committed six turnovers in its regular-season loss to Exeter, but didn't turn the ball over at all Saturday. The Little Green also didn't commit a penalty. Still, it wasn't enough.
"We're not a better football team than Exeter or Pinkerton," Ray said. "So if we're going to beat a team that's better than us we have to play pretty much perfect - offense, defense, special teams. We just couldn't do that."
Running back David Weekly scored twice for Central. He helped tie the game, 7-7, on a 1-yard TD run with 2:09 left in the first quarter, and punctuated Central's third-quarter scoring drive with a 4-yard run. Weekly gained 117 yards on 15 carries.
Central quarterback Riley Cote completed 15 of 22 passes for 156 yards.
The Little Green will be off until Thanksgiving, when it will face Trinity at Gill Stadium (10:15 a.m.).
"We played tough and we played hard," Ray said. "We just ran into a team that was certainly better than we were."
Pinkerton 42, Nashua South 3
Junior running back Manny Latimore stole the show Saturday afternoon in Derry.
Latimore scored five touchdowns as second-seeded Pinkerton Academy knocked off third-seeded Nashua South 42-3 in the Division I semifinals.
Latimore scored on TD runs of 55, 65, 22, and 5 yards, and also caught a 23-yard TD pass from quarterback Sean Conroy. He finished the game with 206 yards rushing on 15 carries.
The victory earned Pinkerton (10-1, 8-1) a second shot at top-seeded Exeter in Saturday's Division I title game. The Blue Hawks handed Pinkerton its only loss, 24-20, in Derry earlier this year. Exeter also beat Pinkerton in last year's Division I championship game.
Nashua South (6-5, 5-4) was held to 96 yards rushing on 35 attempts.
Pinkerton also beat Nashua South 40-20 last weekend. Nashua South's Steven Choate rushed for 134 yards on five carries in that loss, but was held to 16 yards rushing Saturday.
Nashua South quarterback Trevor Knight rushed for 50 yards on 16 carries, and completed 10 of 15 passes for 103 yards.
Pinkerton advanced to the championship game for the eighth time in the last nine years.
Nashua South will face cross-town rival Nashua North on Thanksgiving.