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NHIAA Football: Blue Devils assert power

By ROGER BROWN
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 17. 2017 12:05AM
Salem's Matt Soldano celebrates and Pinkerton's Terrell Hicks watches as Josh Sibanda heads toward the end zone during the first half of Saturday's Division I football game in Salem. The Blue Devils topped the Astros, 35-20. (Photo by Joe Marchilena)

SALEM - The more time came off the clock, the more the Salem High School football team seemed to be winning the physical battle up front against Pinkerton Academy.

Pinkerton had a seven-point lead after one quarter Saturday, but Salem asserted itself after that. The Blue Devils scored 28 unanswered points en route to a 35-20 victory at sun-soaked Grant Field.

Salem running back Josh Sibanda rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries before leaving the game with an apparent leg injury late in the third quarter. Sibanda, who was seen walking after the game, also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a TD in the first quarter.

Salem coach Rob Pike said he didn't know the extent of Sibanda's injury.

"For a little kid, (Sibanda) breaks a lot of tackles," Pike said. "He runs really hard. He's a little ball of muscle. He's a tough, tough kid."

Salem, the No. 2 team in this week's Union Leader Power Poll, took its first lead when Sibanda scored on a 71-yard run with 58.8 seconds in the first half. The third of Zach Gibbons' five point-after kicks handed Salem a 21-14 halftime advantage.

Salem (3-0) scored again on its opening drive in the third quarter. This time the TD came on Sibanda's 46-yard run.

The lead grew to 35-14 when fullback Dom Paci scored the second of his two touchdowns on a 12-yard run with 1:42 left in the third. Paci's other TD, a 9-yard run, helped Salem pull even, 14-14 with 4:28 remaining in the first half.

"I'm not pleased with our inability to dominate the line of scrimmage," Pinkerton coach Brian O'Reilly said. "That certainly didn't happen today."

Pinkerton (2-1) took a 7-0 lead when Tyrell Hicks scored on a 3-yard run and Brandon Roy added the PAT with 3:57 left in the first quarter, but Sibanda's first TD came on the ensuing kickoff. It was the third time Salem has returned a kickoff for a TD this season.

"That hurt, and then the one before halftime - that was a back-breaker," O'Reilly said. "All that said, they came out in the second half and owned the second half. So there's that. They're a better team than we are at the moment and we need to get better if want to compete with them in November."

Pinkerton, which entered the weekend as the No. 4 team in the Power Poll, reclaimed the lead on quarterback Aiden Goujon's 1-yard sneak with 2:48 remaining in the first, but the Blue Devils took control by scoring the next 28 points.

It was Salem's seventh victory in 37 meetings with Pinkerton.

"Our kids played physical," Pike said. "They played aggressive and executed pretty well. That was a good job against a good team."

rbrown@unionleader.com


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