NHIAA Football Semifinals: Astros make playsBy MICHAEL ABELSON
Special to the Union Leader
November 12. 2017 2:50AM
SALEM - With their lead slipping away and a fumble lost inside Salem's 5-yard line, the Pinkerton Astros got a dose of the improbable that propelled them to Wildcat Stadium.
Pinkerton forced turnovers on three straight plays from scrimmage, including a forced a fumble that was recovered by Josh McCormack in the end zone for a touchdown. The next two Salem plays were Astros inteceptions, and the vaunted Pinkerton rushing attack salted away the game as Pinkerton gave Salem its first loss of the season Saturday, 45-28, to advance to its first state final since making five in a row from 2010-2014.
Senior defensive back Josh Ladipo had two interceptions and a fumble recovery for the Astros. His second interception, midway through the fourth, set up a Nick Lombard touchdown that put the game away.
"I was looking at (Salem quarterback Matt) Soldano's eyes," Ladipo said. "He looks at all his reads so it's easy to tell where the ball was going. The D line was really getting a lot of pressure on him so I want to thank them for pressuring the quarterback."
Pinkerton generated five takeaways as well as three turnovers on downs, and turned those into 31 points. The Astros scored first on every possession in the first half.
Gannon Fast scored on the team's first possession.
McCormack scooped a Ty Hicks fumble at the goal line and rolled into the end zone to make it 14-0. Hicks and Fast carried the load for the Astros. Hicks rushed 22 times for a game-high 112 yards, and Fast rushed 13 times for 54 yards.
Gennaro Marra had eight carries for 79 yards and a score. Pinkerton finished with 289 yards of rushing. Junior quarterback Aidan Goujon did his thing as well, with 26 yards rushing and 103 yards passing, including a pair of passing scores. He and Marra hooked up for a 70-yard touchdown in the first half.
"Their defensive tackles hurt us last time we played so we took our best guys and put them on their defensive tackles, and all they did the whole game was block one on one," Pinkerton coach Brian O'Reilly said. "We just read their blocks and went off their blocks. All credit goes to the whole line, but (Cam) Macro and (Robert) Fahey were real big for us."
Salem trailed 31-13 at half but did not go quietly. Senior Soldano put the team on his back. He rushed for 68 yards and a score and caught a pass to set up another touchdown. His rushing touchdown with 1:28 left in the third quarter made it 31-28 Pinkerton.
Fellow senior Adam Maroun led the Salem rushing attack with 93 yards and a score. Salem was playing without its biggest offensive weapon, Josh Sibanda, who was suspended after picking up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, both for taunting, last week against Londonderry.
Up next for the Astros is a date with undefeated Winnacunnet next Saturday in Durham. The Warriors will be looking for their first Division I title in program history.
"I haven't seen Winnacunnet in three years," O'Reilly said. "I know they got the fastest kid in the state. I know they run a great veer offense. There's no reason we were looking past this game."