NHIAA D-II Football Semifinals: Bedford scores game-winning TD as time expires, will face Winnacunnet for crown
Winnacunnet's Ben Franzoso (34) breaks away as he sprints for a touchdown run as Bishop Guertin's Blake Boudreau gives chase in their Division II semifinal Saturday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
BEDFORD - James Caparell made his reputation with his arm. He made Bedford High's season Saturday with his legs.
The senior quarterback pushed his way over the goal line with time expiring to give the second-seeded Bulldogs a wild 20-15 win over No. 3 Keene High in the semifinals of the Division II football playoffs.
Bedford (9-1), in its first season in Division II, heads to its second championship game in as many years. The Bulldogs lost at home to Portsmouth in last year's Division III title game. They go on the road this time, traveling to face top-seeded Winnacunnet in Hampton.
Winnacunnet, a 35-26 winner over fourth-seeded Bishop Guertin of Nashua, was the only team to beat Bedford this year. The Warriors topped the Bulldogs, 13-6, in the second game of the season.
The Bulldogs responded from that loss by rallying to beat Keene on the road the following week, 25-24, in a game that didn't lack for excitement. However, compared to what happened in the rematch, it was like watching paint dry.
Keene (8-3) scored with 43.6 seconds left on a 25-yard pass from Lucas Luopa to Riley Morris to make the score 14-13 to silence the crowded Bedford side at Bulldog Stadium. Instead of kicking the extra point for the tie, the Blackbirds successfully went for two points when Luopa threw a jump pass to tight end Alex Austin.
That, as it turned out, was just the warmup act.
Starting on their own 36, the Bulldogs had 42.8 seconds to at least work their way into field goal range. Two plays after a pair of Keene defenders collided on what appeared to be a sure interception, Caparell and Nick Vailas connected on 3rd-and-10 kept the drive alive with 20.6 seconds left. The two hooked up again two plays later, this time Caparell staying alive long enough in the pocket to loft a 38-yard pass that Vailas came down with a foot in front of the end zone, falling out of bounds with less than a second left on the clock.
Bedford coach Kurt Hines called time out and huddled with his team. Hines said he and his staff decided the night before the game that they would go for the field goal if they were in this kind of situation. Then his team had its say.
"They said they wanted us to give them a shot," Hines said. "I just had to trust my players."
Keene coach John Luopa said his team was expecting a quarterback sneak and that's what they got. Caparell got behind a mass of bodies and managed to get the ball over the goal line on what turned out to be the final play of the game.
"Our offensive linemen gave a great push and (running back) Dylan York was behind me pushing me," Caparell said.
With a game that featured two of the top quarterbacks in the state and Keene throwing in a wrinkle by snapping the ball to running back Alex Parenteau in their version of the Wildcat on several plays, the game had the makings for a high-scoring affair. Instead, it was 7-0 in favor of the Birds at halftime after Parenteau scored from a yard out on fourth down midway through the second quarter.
The Birds looked they had another touchdown on the final play of the half when Matt Delvecchio like he pulled in Lucas Luopa's heave into the end zone. However, John Luopa said the game officials told him Delvecchio didn't have control of the ball.
That proved big when the Bulldogs tied the game on their second drive of the third quarter as Brian Collins split two defenders on a short slant pass and went 52 yards. They went ahead on their first drive of the fourth quarter when, after taking over after a Keene fumble, Caparell went to Collins for 50 yards and, after a personal foul penalty on Keene put the ball on the 9, floated a pass into the far corner of the end zone for Vailas to make it 14-7 with 10:32 left.
That's when things really got interesting.
Winnacunnet 35, BG 26
The top-seeded Warriors (10-1) got back to championship game for the third time in four years by ending Bishop Guertin's four-year reign as king of Division II.
The fourth-seeded Cardinals (5-4) limped into the playoffs, having lost their final two games in the regular season, including a 28-14 loss to Warriors last week, but showed some of their championship pedigree by going ahead 19-14 midway through the third quarter on a 73-yard run by C.J. Boykin.
"It's not the best situation and they're our nemesis. You've just got to keep the kids focused," Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant said of playing a team in consecutive weeks. "They played well and we matched them."
Winnacunnet's Alec Boucher proved to be too much for the Cardinals.
The junior flanker caught a pair of touchdowns passes, including a 37-yarder late in the third quarter to put Winnacunnet back ahead - and sealed the victory when he returned an onsides kick 47 yards for a another touchdown in the final minutes.
Winnacunnet running back Ben Franzoso scored on runs of 81 and 28 yards as the Warriors advance to play Bedford in the championship game and try for their first state title since 2000.