Bulldogs hold the lead in the third until Exeter senior takes control to run team’s winning streak to 33.

EXETER — With his team trailing by seven points late in the third quarter, Ryan Grijalva took it upon himself to spearhead the Exeter High School boys’ basketball team to its latest conquest.

Bedford frustrated defending Division I champion Exeter for most of the night until a 3-pointer from Grijalva late in the third quarter began a 7-minute, 39-second stretch in which he scored 19 points. Grijalva’s takeover was enough to pace Exeter to its 33rd straight Division I victory, a 61-57 win over the Bulldogs.

“He was feeling it and, when you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve got to ride him,” Exeter coach Jeff Holmes said. “He basically took the game over and won it for us tonight.

Grijalva finished with a game-high 23 points, but he was held to four points on 2 of 9 shooting until his 3-pointer with 2:23 left in third quarter that ended a 6-0 Bedford run and brought Exeter (12-0) within 32-28.

“I had a couple of good shots that didn’t fall down, but I didn’t want to keep my head down,” Grijalva said. “I’m a shooter. I’ve got to keep taking shots. My teammates did a good job of keeping my head up. I knew I had to do whatever I can to win the game”

Grijalva followed with another 3-pointer from the top of the key in which he was fouled. He completed the 4-point play with 20 seconds left in the third quarter to send the Blue Hawks into the fourth tied at 34-34.

“I was just unconscious for a couple of minutes. I felt hot,” Grijalva said. “That and-one three really kicked it off, it really got the bench excited. As soon as that happened, it really kicked everything off, and everything felt good off the flick of the hand.”

Grijalva’s heroics to end the third were the only Exeter field goals in the quarter, and he continued by opening the fourth with a floater. Bedford’s Justin O’Neill (21 points) and J.T. DeLacey traded 3-pointers with Grijalva, before a drive from Connor Butts (16 points) evened the game at 42-42 with five minutes left in regulation.

Tristan Comeau gave Exeter the lead back. The Blue Hawks led 48-44 on a bucket from Jacob Gibbons (13 points). Bedford was then called for a technical foul after turning the ball over, and Grijalva scored his final points by sinking the ensuing free throws to give Exeter a 50-44 cushion with 2:51 left in the fourth.

“That was a great run (Grijalva had). He’s very good,” Bedford coach Mark Elmendorf said. “We played him tough, but he’s got the great step-back and he’s good.”

Exeter finished the game by hitting five of seven free throws down the stretch, which helped build a 61-54 lead before Bedford’s Jordan Dyer drained a 3-pointer as time expired.

“They’re a real good team. O’Neill is a first-team All-State kid, they’ve got good athletes and they’re well coached,” Holmes said. “I knew we were in for a battle. I thought we were flat in the first half, but I thought in the second we played really hard and made plays when it counted.”

Exeter led 12-10 after one quarter and 21-17 midway through the second before Bedford (7-5) closed the half with a 9-2 run that was capped by an O’Neill bucket to give the Bulldogs a 26-23 lead.

“We played the way we wanted to play, we wanted to keep the score a little lower, but I thought the difference was that we gave up too many fouls in the second half,” Elmendorf said. “It was a fun game to be part of and I was really pleased with the way we played. We’ve just got to build on this and move forward.”

Grijalva knows that every opponent moving forward wants to be the one to knock Exeter off, and it’s a challenge he’s embracing. Exeter visits Alvirne (5-7) on Tuesday.

“Every game is everyone’s NBA Finals. Everyone wants to beat us and everyone wants to knock us out with this undefeated streak,” Grijalva said. “I’m happy they’re coming at us hard. Every game is going to be a challenge, but I’m really happy with how the guys played. It’s a good win and it’ll help us in the future.”