NHIAA Div. I Football Championship: Exeter has all the answers to repeat
Pinkerton Academy's Chris St. Onge(1) dives for extra yardage as Exeter defenders James Vogt, center, and Jameson Whiteley makes the tackle in the first half of the Division I championship game Saturday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
EXETER - Every time Pinkerton Academy of Derry connected with a punch in Saturday's Division I championship game, Exeter punched back.
The Blue Hawks delivered the knockout blow when quarterback Ethan Joyce connected with halfback Colby Swane on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 4:47 remaining in Exeter's 31-21 triumph.
The TD pass came shortly after Pinkerton's Manny Latimore returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown that helped the Astros pull with three points, 24-21, with 9:22 to play. Exeter's resilience was on display all afternoon, however. Each time the Astros scored, the Blue Hawks responded with a TD on their ensuing possession.
"We could not get (the Exeter offense) off the field," Pinkerton coach Brian O'Reilly said. "We worked really hard for our offense today. We worked and worked and worked, and then they go right down the field and score on us. We couldn't make them give the ball back to us."
Exeter completed its season with an 11-1 record (10-0 in Division I). Pinkerton finished 10-2 overall, and 8-2 in Division I. Both Pinkerton losses came against Exeter.
"Every time I thought we were in a little danger, we came back and responded offensively," Exeter coach Bill Ball said. "Offensively we probably executed as well as we have all year - against a very good team. A lot of third-down and fourth-down conversions. Just a real solid effort by the guys."
Exeter had a 306-275 edge in total offense, but ran 15 more offensive plays than Pinkerton (65 to 50). The Astros relied heavily on Latimore, a junior running back who opened the scoring with an 84-yard TD run.
Exeter answered when Jamie Vogt scored on a 7-yard run, and then took its first lead when fullback Galen Antolino scored on a 4-yard run with 7:51 left in the first half. The PAT was blocked, which left Exeter with a 13-7 advantage.
Pinkerton opened the second half with a 13-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Sean Conroy capped the drive with a 6-yard TD run. Kyle Cantalupo's point-after kick handed the Astros a 14-13 lead.
This time it took the Blue Hawks three plays to respond. After Antolino picked up 51 yards on first down, halfback Tyler Grant had runs of 12 and 3 yards. His 3-yard run was good for his 20th rushing TD of the season. Grant also hauled in a Joyce pass on the two-point conversion, which made it 21-14 with 5:41 left in the third.
"We're not fazed by every time someone makes a big play," halfback/linebacker Jamie Vogt said. "We know we're going to come back and make a play."
After Logan Laurent's 32-yard field goal extended Exeter's lead to 10 points, Latimore kept things interesting by returning a Laurent punt for a TD. Latimore rushed for a game-high 177 yards on 22 carries.
Grant, who entered the game with 1,138 yards on 151 rushing attempts, finished with 96 yards on 22 carries.
It was the second time Exeter has beaten Pinkerton to win the Division I championship in as many years. The Blue Hawks prevailed, 23-13, in Derry last season.
"I'd say this one feels a little better," Grant said. "It's my senior year and to go out on top is unbelievable."