Div. II: Plymouth sends Lenahan out a winner in coaching finale
PLYMOUTH - It was a storybook ending for Chuck Lenahan.
In his final game as head coach of the Plymouth Regional football team, Lenahan captured his 20th state title in 43 years as No. 1 Plymouth escaped with a 21-14 overtime win over No. 2 Portsmouth in the NHIAA Division II championship game Saturday.
"Both teams had a chance. Great kids on both teams, they played their hearts out. It was a great game," Lenahan said. "High school football, you can't beat it."
Plymouth (11-1) got the ball to open overtime with the game knotted 14-14. Bobcats senior quarterback Collin Sullivan scored on a bootleg to the right side on first down, but a holding penalty negated the score and backed Plymouth up to the 26-yard line.
Sullivan then completed a 13-yard swing pass to classmate Jared Kuehl and ran in the final 13 yards on his own on the next snap, this time getting free on the left side to find the end zone.
"Our quarterback, going to overtime I said to him 'listen, I'm going to you, can you do it or not?' and he said 'yup, I'm going to do it,'?" Lenahan said.
Plymouth still had to hold on defensively to lock up the win. Clippers junior powerhouse running back S. Mikel Toar pounded the ball for five yards on first down, but those next five yards never came for Portsmouth (10-2).
Senior quarterback Donovan Phanor rushed for a loss of two yards and then threw an incomplete pass on third down. On fourth and goal from the seven, Phanor rolled to his left and got off a pass, but it fell incomplete and Plymouth was victorious.
"The effort of both teams today, this is what a state championship is supposed to be," said Portsmouth head coach Brian Pafford. "To play against those guys and coach Lenahan? You can't ask for more."
The win avenged a regular season loss for Plymouth at the hands of Portsmouth, 27-22 in October. The players expected a tight game, though the extra stress for the 70-year-old Lenahan wasn't in the game plan according to Sullivan.
"He's an old man and we try not to give him a heart attack, but a win is a win," Sullivan joked. "Any way we can do it is nice. It was really nice that we were able to come together and get the win in overtime. It felt really good. We knew it was going to come down to the wire."
The game began looking as though it might be a shootout all day. Both teams scored on their first possessions, but it would remain 7-7 through the half.
Plymouth took the opening kick and drove 73 yards on eight plays. The two biggest plays of the drive were the final two as Sullivan's bootleg to the right gained 15 yards and then John Thomas broke free off tackle left for 29 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 8:34 remaining in the first.
Portsmouth then used its first possession to march 74 yards on nine plays for the equalizer. Phanor's swing pass to Toar gained 13 yards on a key third down and Joey Auger ripped off a 21-yard gain. Phanor then connected with Loden Formichelli from 10 yards out for the touchdown with 6:13 to go in the first.
Plymouth took a 14-7 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter, using just three plays to move the ball 23 yards after a short punt ended Portsmouth's first possession of the half. Sullivan scored on a QB keeper from a yard out to cap the drive.
Portsmouth answered right away, getting 37 yards from Toar on a swing pass from Phanor to set up first down at the Plymouth 19. Phanor finished from there, escaping a crowd in front and finding the end zone to tie the game.
Neither team could get much going as turnovers continued to burn both sides. Plymouth lost one fumble and Portsmouth coughed up two, including a costly one at the Bobcats two-yard line when Toar was stuffed and stripped of the ball on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"I think when you get in this stage and you get some cold weather, it gets hard to hold onto the football. They know we've been prone to fumble at times and they were going after it," Pafford said. "Those hurt. I felt we had them at that point and we can go up by seven and get them throwing it more. I like our chances. We just didn't finish."
The Clippers would have another solid chance to take the lead in the fourth frame, moving the ball to the Plymouth 23-yard line before Phanor was stuffed on a keeper attempt on fourth-and-one.
"We did everything that we could today. You've got to give credit to Plymouth. They stopped us when there was big play opportunity," Phanor said. "(Plymouth's Kyle) Reisert, I hope he gets some accolades because he's the best defensive lineman I've played against in my time. He's a monster, I couldn't get around him. He was shutting down the outside."
Overtime would come soon after, a little extra football for Lenahan's curtain call.
"It probably goes right up there with the rest of them,'' Lenahan said of the stress level of championship games. "You've got to hang tough. You teach the kids to hang in there, hang tough and don't ever give up, stay together and I think that's what really came through for us. What a great bunch of kids. I'm real proud of them."