NHIAA Div. III Football Championship: QB Phanor leads Portsmouth to title
Portsmouth celebrates its Division III football championship win over Goffstown in Portsmouth on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
PORTSMOUTH - Donovan Phanor proved a couple of things on Saturday. One was that he is a talented football player, and the other was that he is poised under pressure.
After throwing an interception with his first pass of the game, the sophomore quarterback rebounded with a memorable performance.
He threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns while running for 178 yards and another two scores to lead the No. 3 Portsmouth High School football team to a 54-27 win over No. 4 Goffstown in the Division III championship at Tom Daubney Field.
"He is a competitor," Portsmouth coach Bill Murphy said. "He's been injured a little bit this year. He faced that adversity and it's something we kind of expect from him."
Phanor was one of five quarterbacks used by the Clippers during the season and on the biggest stage showed why he was their best option. He was elusive and powerful running the ball and showed good chemistry through the air with split end Colin MacDonald, with whom he hooked up with six times for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
"I was telling Colin the entire week 'I will break my body for you,'" Phanor said. "All those throws they were a little under thrown and he went up there and he got them."
The two that were for touchdowns went for 35 and 26 yards. The 35-yarder came with 7:04 left in the first half and gave the Clippers the lead for good at 20-14. The 26-yarder came with 18 seconds left in the third and made it 41-14.
It was the second straight title for Portsmouth, which finishes the season with a record of 8-2. It was the first championship game appearance for the Grizzlies, who end their season at 6-4.
"We fought hard, I'm proud of the way the kids played," Goffstown coach Justin Hufft said. "We just ran into a better football team today."
Goffstown held leads of 7-0 and 14-7 before Portsmouth scored on two straight possessions to take a 20-14 advantage, which it held at halftime. The Clippers then put the game away by scoring on their first five possessions of the second half.
After scoring just seven points in its semifinal win over Milford, the Portsmouth offense got it done both on the ground and through the air in the title game. More importantly, it responded quickly after Goffstown struck with a couple of big plays in the second half.
Three plays after Grizzlies quarterback Connor Benjamin scored to make it 41-20, Dillon Crosby scored for the Clippers. And just one play after a Peter Shea touchdown cut the Portsmouth lead to 48-27, S. Mikel Toar went 51 yards to round out the scoring with 6:27 left to play.
"We knew we could put up points," Portsmouth offensive lineman Ricky Holt said. "Coach (Russ) Russo challenged us in the locker room. He said 'I know our defense always does it, but lets do it on offense.'"
The defense also did a good job containing the high-powered Grizzlie offense to just 27 points after it put up 54 on top-seeded Souhegan a week earlier. A big reason for that was Portsmouth's ability to slow down Benjamin, who had some big plays but wasn't able to break the game open the way he did against the Sabers.
Benjamin finished with 143 yards on the ground and 150 through the air.
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NOTES: The final numbers may not show it, but the Portsmouth High School football team's defense did its job against Goffstown quarterback Connor Benjamin.
Although Benjamin did get some big plays, he didn't get a state title and keeping that away from him was the ultimate goal of the Clippers, who claimed a 54-27 win over the Grizzlies in the Division III championship at Tom Daubney Field on Saturday.
"We did enough stopping him," Portsmouth defensive lineman Ricky Holt said. "We forced a couple of turnovers. He can run or throw it, we just did enough."
Benjamin hooked up with Ashton Florence for a 48-yard touchdown pass in the first half and rushed for a 55-yard score in the fourth quarter. He finished with 143 yards rushing and 150 yards passing, but that pales in comparison to what he did the week before in a 54-53 win over top-seeded Souhegan of Amherst.
The senior quarterback had 217 yards rushing and 309 yards passing against the Sabers. He was involved in 12 plays that went for more than 10 yards in the semifinals. The Clippers limited him to six.
"I've got some great coaches and they watch an awful lot of film," Portsmouth coach Bill Murphy said. "We tried to prepare as best we can and to a large extent we were able to control him."
Portsmouth prepared for the daunting task all week and did so by assigning a player to spy on Benjamin the entire game. That job went to senior linebacker Dillon Crosby, who said it wasn't easy trying to keep up with one of the best players in the state.
"I've got to give it to him, he's one of the best players I've ever played against," Crosby said. "We trained all week, me against him and I just went out there and played football."
More importantly than limiting the amount of big plays Benjamin was able to break was the fact the Clippers got him to turn the ball over three times, one fumble and two interceptions. Both interceptions came in the second half and each was followed up by a Portsmouth touchdown drive as it pulled away for its second straight championship.
Nathaniel McFarland made the first interception and Jake Becker followed it up one play later with a 23-yard touchdown run to make it 27-14 less than two minutes into the second half.