EXETER - There have been some pretty good football games played between Exeter High School and Winnacunnet of Hampton through the years, but perhaps none better than the one that unfolded at Eustis Field on Saturday.
Winnacunnet erased a 14-point deficit by scoring twice in the final 1:09 of regulation before Exeter prevailed, 35-34, on a missed extra-point attempt in overtime.
Exeter took a 35-28 lead on fullback Jay Inzenga's 1-yard run on fourth down in OT. Winnacunnet scored on its overtime possession when quarterback Ing Hao Veasna connected with Collin Witt for a 7-yard TD pass. Winnacunnet called a timeout after the TD, and then sophomore kicker Max Chaykowsky's PAT attempt was wide left.
"We were talking about (going for two)," Winnacunnet coach Ron Auffant said. "We liked something, but the general consensus was let's go one more round. That kicker made every one up until that point with no problems. You can't second guess. We felt confident with him.
"That's a tough load for him. There's a lot of things that went on in that game. It wasn't that kick that lost it."
Inzenga gained 280 yards on 25 carries and scored three touchdowns to help Exeter raise its Division I record to 3-0. The Blue Hawks were the No. 1 team in last week's Union Leader/WGIR/WMUR Power Poll.
Winnacunnet, last year's Division II champion, dropped to 2-1.
It looked like Exeter had wrapped up the victory when Inzenga scored his second touchdown on a 58-yard TD run with 2:25 to play. The touchdown plus Matt Oppici's fourth point-after kick gave Exeter a 28-14 lead with 2:25 remaining.
Winnacunnet kept things interesting when Veasna tossed a 9-yard TD pass to Alec Boucher with 1:09 to play, and then the situation grew even more tense when the Warriors recovered the onside kick. Veasna capped a seven-play, 50-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run, and Chaykowski's kick made it 28-28 with 23.7 seconds left.
Winnacunnet ran a no-huddle, spread offense rather than its traditional veer offense for most of the game, and Veasna finished the contest with 22 completions in 30 attempts for 363 yards and three TD passes.
"They're a very good team," Exeter coach Bill Ball said. "They have a three-year quarterback who's played 20-something games and is a defending state champ. He's good.
"For us to come out on top is certainly pleasing, but we're not anywhere near where we need to be."
Exeter received two rushing touchdowns from halfback Ryan Kelly. Winnacunnet's first TD came when Devin Long blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone. The Warriors took a 14-7 lead on a 97-yard TD pass from Veasna to Boucher wit 51.1 seconds to play in the first quarter.
"Great football game," Auffant said. "They're a great football team. To beat Exeter you have to play your 'A' game. We were A-minus I guess."