Perhaps the best thing that happened to the Pinkerton Academy of Derry football team this season was the team’s dismal start.
Pinkerton, thought by many to be the best team in the state when the season began, struggled offensively in a season-opening 14-12 loss to Bedford, then turned the ball over on each of its first two possessions and found itself in an early 14-0 hole the following week against Manchester Central.
That’s when Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly stopped rotating Jake Froehlich and Jack Hanaway at quarterback and anointed Hanaway as the starter. It’s a move that may have kept Pinkerton’s season from unraveling.
“He’s done a terrific job this year,” O’Reilly said when he was asked about Hanaway. “We had three quarterbacks at the start of the year (junior Conner Holland was also battling for the job) and we were alternating in scrimmages. Then we trailed Central 14-0 and things weren’t looking good. I look back at it now and wonder what I was thinking.
“Jack is a really smart quarterback. He understands the wing-T very well. He carries out fakes and that opens up our running game. Some kids get it, but some don’t. He’s really been a great compliment to our offense.”
Hanaway, a Bedford resident who pays tuition to attend Pinkerton, helped the Astros erase that 14-point deficit against Central and post a 37-20 victory. The Astros are 8-1 since then, and the loss came in overtime against Concord — the team Pinkerton will meet Saturday (1 p.m.) at Concord’s Memorial Field to decide the Division I champion.
Pinkerton (10-1) is making its ninth appearance in the Division I championship game in the last 10 years, and its 15th appearance in the Class L/Division I title game overall. Without Hanaway, Pinkerton’s season might not have extended this far.
Hanaway’s older brother Kyle also attended Pinkerton.
“I just wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps,” Hanaway explained. “Get away from the whole Bedford scene and try something new. Plus Pinkerton is a big school, a big campus. It’s kind of getting me ready for college. It hasn’t been a struggle.”
Hanaway, a junior, is averaging 8 yards per carry this season, and has rushed for seven touchdowns. He’s completed 18 of 36 passes for 363 yards and five touchdowns.
“He hasn’t shown to be much of a passing threat to this point, but that doesn’t mean he can’t throw,” Concord coach Eric Brown said. “He’s the starting quarterback for Pinkerton Academy, so he’s pretty good.”
“People think that we can’t pass,” O’Reilly added. “I choose not to pass. We’re going to run the ball unless you can stop us from running the ball. We’re not here to entertain the casual fan. If we wanted to go back and throw 20 times a game he’d throw like everybody else.”
Hanaway also plays varsity lacrosse at Pinkerton, where O’Reilly is the school’s boys’ lacrosse coach. He began the football season with very little varsity experience, and split playing time with Froehlich in the 14-12 loss to Bedford. Froehlich, who transferred from the Tilton School to Pinkerton last summer, started in Week 2 against Central.
Froehlich transferred back to Tilton the week before Pinkerton’s regular-season game against Londonderry, which cemented Hanaway’s role as the starter and made Holland the No. 2 QB on Pinkerton’s depth chart.
“All I was focused on (in the offseason) was getting my starting spot,” Hanaway said. “Then I had heard about (Froehlich) transferring and I said, ’Alright, I’ll just work harder in the offseason,’ which I did.
“I feel I definitely earned it (the starting job). I feel like my work in the offseason paid off.”
Hanaway said Pinkerton’s team success this season hasn’t come as a surprise, but added that the progress he’s made as the team’s quarterback has been very rewarding as well.
“I wanted to take a leadership role this year, which I think I did,” he said. “I think I’ve grown into that role, which is something a quarterback should do. I was a little bit angry at the beginning of the year, but that competition has made be a better quarterback.”