NHIAA Div. I Football Championship Preview: Backfield in motion
Within days of losing the 2011 Division I football championship to Exeter, Pinkerton Academy of Derry coach Brian O'Reilly was ready to overhaul the offense - and it wasn't a tough decision.
Chris St. Onge, a two-year starter at quarterback, would move to running back, and Sean Conroy would take over as QB for the 2012 Astros. The changes would give Pinkerton a two-headed monster in the backfield - St. Onge and Manny Latimore - and allow Conroy to blossom at quarterback.
"It was like a two-for-one deal," O'Reilly said. "We needed another running back in the backfield, based on what we had coming back. It was obvious Chris would be that other running back because he's that good. Both kids switched roles and became leaders of the team."
Conroy and St. Onge were elected captains by their teammates. So were St. Onge's twin brother, fullback/linebacker Matt St. Onge, and lineman Jake Bernaiche. From there, the Astros won 10 of 11 games, including a 20-14 victory at traditional Massachusetts power Brockton.
Exeter handed Pinkerton its only loss, 24-20, in the second week of the season.
On Saturday, the top-ranked teams in the weekly New Hampshire Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR poll meet again for the Division I championship at 1 p.m. at No. 1 Exeter.
Conroy, also a captain on the Pinkerton lacrosse team coached by O'Reilly, has thrown 10 touchdown passes and just one interception. The senior signal caller was picked off on his first throw against Exeter on Sept. 8, but that pass actually went through a Pinkerton receiver's hands.
For the past two weeks, Conroy has been dialed into his receivers, completing 11 of 17 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns.
The Astros are built on the running game, but they tend to burn opponents with dagger passes. In the final regular-season game at Nashua South, Conroy lofted a deep sideline pass to James Toohey for a 49-yard touchdown. The play gave Pinkerton a 26-14 lead and broke the spirit of Nashua South in what ultimately became a 40-20 contest at Stellos Stadium.
"We are known as a running team," O'Reilly said, "but I don't know many quarterbacks who have a ratio of 10 touchdowns to one interceptions. Sean does a great job taking care of the ball, and he makes good decisions. He really is the key for us."
A year ago, Conroy played starting safety for the Astros and served as backup QB. Latimore, who rushed for five touchdowns and 203 yards Saturday in the Division I semifinals, last year was considered the team's third option on offense.
Pinkerton enters its third straight championship as a far different team from the one that lost to Exeter in September.
"Our offense wasn't where it needed to be after two games. I thought it was erratic," O'Reilly said. "I knew the defense was there. It was just a matter of time before the offense started to jell."