PLYMOUTH - There will be one more game for Plymouth Regional head coach Chuck Lenahan.
Top-ranked Plymouth defeated No. 4 Sanborn Regional 37-13 in NHIAA Division II semifinal play Saturday. Lenahan, in his 43rd and final season, will try for his 20th state championship next Saturday when the Bobcats host No. 2 Portsmouth at 1 p.m.
"I thought our guys were well-prepared and they did a good job executing, especially the first quarter and the first few drives to set the tone," Lenahan said. "We'll take it."
The Bobcats (10-1) scored on their first possession, taking the opening kick and driving 86 yards on just five plays. A 26-yard John Thomas run set up a 40-yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline for Jared Kuehl. James Nolan's kick was good and Plymouth led 7-0 just 2:19 into the game.
Sanborn (6-5) went three-and-out and Plymouth turned its second possession into another seven points, this time driving 44 yards on 10 plays. The Bobcats converted fourth-down tries twice on the drive, which culminated in a 13-yard touchdown run by Thomas on a pitch to the left.
"They're a really good football team. By far the best team we've faced this year," said Sanborn coach John Welch. "We started out and had some passes that didn't work out and they capitalized. We knew they were going to be tough. They're well-coached."
The teams traded possessions into the second quarter until Plymouth was able to score again to push the lead to 21-0. A 34-yard drive ended with a first-and-goal one-yard keeper by quarterback Collin Sullivan with 6:28 remaining in the half.
Sanborn put together a solid drive following that score, moving the ball from its own 30 deep into Plymouth territory.
The Indians were set to try a field goal on fourth down and 12 from the Bobcats 18, but an illegal substitution penalty against Plymouth gave them another five yards and Welch opted to try a pass, which fell incomplete and gave Plymouth the ball with just over one minute remaining.
"We were hoping there to get some points. We knew we were getting the ball back to start the second half," said Welch. "We thought 21-7 would be better than 21-0."
The Bobcats used the clock and timeouts to good effect, getting the ball to the Sanborn 35 with seven seconds remaining. A deep pass attempt from Sullivan drew a 15-yard pass interference flag and with one second remaining, senior Silas Murray kicked a 37-yard field goal to send Plymouth to intermission with a 24-0 lead.
Sanborn got the kick to start the second half, but turned the ball over on downs and the teams once again traded possessions. Nolan recovered a fumble for Plymouth on the Sanborn 22. Three plays later, Thomas scored from 15 yards out. The kick was blocked, leaving the score 30-0 with 4:51 remaining in the third.
The Indians fumbled the ball back to Plymouth on the first play of their next possession and Sullivan wasted little time, hitting Kyle Reisert for a 17-yard touchdown pass on first down to make it 37-0.
"That was big in the third quarter, to come out after the intermission and stop them and take over and go down and get a couple quick ones," Lenahan said.
Lenahan emptied his bench and Sanborn was able to score twice in the fourth quarter. Indians quarterback John Morris connected with Jackson Morton for a 10-yard touchdown with 11:07 to go in the game and then with 19 seconds remaining, backup quarterback Christian Ehlers broke a 60-yard touchdown run to account for the final score.
"Our boys gave it their all all season. We're extremely proud of our team," Welch said. "We had 22 seniors who really drove this team. We had excellent leadership and it was a team effort to get to where we're at."