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NHIAA: Stevens battles to tough win over Epping

Special to the Sunday News

September 12. 2015 10:05PM

EPPING — In a battle of attrition during which both teams lost key players to injury, Stevens of Claremont defeated Epping/Newmarket, 26-13, on Saturday.

The win boosts Stevens' record to 2-0 while Epping/Newmarket falls to 0-2.

Cardinals quarterback Henri Bourque left the game in the second quarter with an injury to his throwing wrist. Bourque's teammates responded in a big way, especially on defense.

“One of our themes throughout our season so far has been handling adversity,” Stevens head coach Paul Silva said. “Things are going to happen in sports and guys are going to get dinged up, but we have to overcome. I thought these guys did one heck of a job today.”

Thanks in large part to its defense, Stevens jumped out to a 16-0 lead late in the second quarter. The Cardinals' defense forced two safeties: One came on a Blue Devils' botched snap that went over punter Alex Souvannaseng's head and out the back of the end zone and the other when Isaiah Forrest sacked Epping/Newmarket quarterback Jake Bisaillon. The Cardinals got the Bisaillon again in the end zone late in the second half.

“I've never seen three safeties in a game,” Silva said. “I don't even recall three safeties in a season.”

Stevens also got a lift from captain Richard Bell, who filled in for Bourque at quarterback and also did some damage on the ground. Bell scored the Cardinals' first touchdown with his 41-yard run in the first quarter. After Bourque left the game, Bell continued to facilitate the Cardinals' offense via the run and pass.

“Richard is one of our better running backs but he gives us some depth at quarterback as well,” Silva said.

After Epping/Newmarket cut the lead to 16-6 with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Bisaillon to Jeremy Espo, the Cardinals once again built on their lead. Stevens' captain Parker Smith broke an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to widen his team's lead to 24-6.

Souvannaseng was carted off the field in an ambulance in the second quarter with an arm injury while trying to make a tackle on a Stevens receiver. Blue Devils coach Justin Leonard said his arm is not broken, but the team is not sure when Souvannaseng will return.

With the loss of Souvannaseng, one of the Blue Devils' most important offensive players as a running back and wide receiver in addition to his work in the defensive backfield, Epping/Newmarket appeared to play with more fire and fought back after Stevens took the lead.

Bisaillon hit Noah Armstrong with a 65-yard touchdown pass to cut the Cardinals' lead to 24-13 before halftime. Stevens' late safety was the only second-half scoring.

Armstrong said he was proud of the way his team initially responded to Souvannaseng's injury.

“After what happened we really stepped it up and took control,” Armstrong said. “But then it (intensity) died down again, so we can't let that happen.”

Leonard said he was excited to see how well the defense played after losing its star senior.

“Our team came together, particularly on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “The defense responded excellent.

“Kids were cramping up on both sides and it was a tough game for everyone,” he said. “It was a battle of wills and both teams dug deep.

Epping/Newmarket heads to Raymond next Friday at 7 p.m. to take on the Rams in the Battle for the Spotted Turtle. The Cardinals next play at Mascoma Regional on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

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