NHIAA Div. II Football Championship: Winnacunnet nips Bedford in nailbiter
Nyles Makarewicz-Connor didn't want to find out.
The senior linebacker came up as Bedford quarterback James Caparell was trying to run for a first down on his team's final drive of the game and absolutely drilled him. The ball came loose and Winnacunnet's Sam Bonsaint fell on it.
The celebration was on.
Winnacunnet won its fourth title in school history and its first since 2000 with a hard-fought 21-13 win over Bedford in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute.
Bedford (9-2), down 21-13, had 70 seconds to go 75 yards to try to tie the game. Impossible? Hardly. The Bulldogs won three games during the regular season with late drives and knocked off Keene in the semifinals scoring on the final play of the game. They believed.
Caparell said they still thought they could pull it out even as they faced a fourth-and-5 from their own 30 with 50 seconds left. The Warriors (11-1), as they had done all day, had Bedford's receivers covered on the play. The pocket was collapsing, so Caparell took off.
He had a hole right up the middle and charged into it untouched. Makarewicz-Connor, who had dropped back into coverage, charged from the other side. The two collided violently. The ball popped in the air, rolling loose for a moment before Bonsaint jumped on it.
All that was left was for Winnacunnet quarterback Ing Hao Veasna to take a knee on a couple of plays and run out the clock.
"They did a good job covering our receivers," Caparell said, "I tried to make a play with my legs. It's a shame it didn't work out."
Caparell certainly made a play with is legs earlier in the half when, with his team trailing 14-7 late in the third quarter, he busted loose for 97 yards when the Bulldogs were only looking for a couple to get out of a hole on second-and-16 from their own 1. He covered the final two yards into the endzone on the next play to pump new life into a Bedford side that had been muted for most of the day.
The momentum, however, didn't last long.
The Bulldogs were unorganized on the point after attempt. A player was still running onto the field as Keelan McCoole was attempting the point after kick. Penalty flags flew as the kick missed wide right. The Warriors didn't need to take the penalty, they were obviously content keeping the point off the board and holding on to a 14-13 lead.
"It wasn't just a point off the board," Bedford coach Kurt Hines said. "It was a momentum swing."
Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant thought Veasna made an even bigger play to set up his team's final touchdown.
The Warriors had third-and-5 from their own 24 when the junior quarterback took advantage of a Bedford breakdown in coverage and found Collin Witt for 35 yards. So, instead of punting from deep in their own territory, the Warriors were on the move, Running backs Ben Franzoso and Seth Edwards covered the final 41 yards on five carries. Bedford's defense conceded the final 14 yards to Edwards so it could get the ball back in its offense's hands with a reasonable amount of time left on the clock.
The game started out with both teams scoring on their opening drives. Winnacunnet went 77 yards, capped off by an 8-yard touchdown run from Franzoso, and Bedford answered with a 72-yard drive Caparell finished off with a two-yard run.
Bedford held on Winnacunnet's second possession, but the Bulldogs couldn't get the ball back. Ben Gareau's high punt bounced off a Bedford up man and was recovered by Alec Boucher to give the ball back to the Warriors on the Bedford 36. They scored three plays later on a one-yard keeper by Veasna.
The defenses took over from there. Winnacunnet held Caparell in check by containing him in the pocket and not allowing his receivers much open space. The senior was 11-for-14, but the Bulldogs only gained 93 yards through the air. Winnacunnet had 181 yards rushing, but set itself back with two fumbles in the second half.
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NOTES: Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant was a first-year assistant when the Warriors won their last title in 2000. He was 0-3 in title games as a head coach before Saturday. All three losses were to Bishop Guertin. "I didn't want to be like the Buffalo Bills," Auffant said... The Warriors won three games a year ago... High school coaches hesitate trusting the outcome of games to their kickers, but Auffant said he had complete confidence in senior Carly Gould. Gould, who plays for the girls' soccer team and is headed to play soccer at Brown next year, joined the team earlier this season was 3-for-3 on extra point attempts Saturday. "She won the Dover game for us," Auffant said. "Those are the little things that win or lose games." Auffant said a missed extra point cost his team in a 14-13 loss to BG in the title game two years ago. Unlike many kickers who practice kicking into a net during the game, Gould does her warmups before the game, than just quietly watches the game along the sidelines until she is called on to kick. Auffant said he didn't try to mess with that routine. "I stay away from kickers as long as they're getting them over," Auffant said... Bedford was 0-9 five years ago under current coach Kurt Hines when it played its first varsity season. The Bulldogs won two games when this year's seniors were freshmen. Now they have appeared in the Division III and Division II title games in back to back seasons. "It's something they won't think about until they are my age," Hines said, "but they built something truly amazing."