DOVER — The luxury of having multiple weapons is any coach’s dream. Certainly Souhegan head football coach Robin Bowkett is very appreciative in what has been handed to him.
Possessing two quarterbacks, albeit with different styles, gives Bowkett the persistence to run a swarm of different plays based on the personnel on the field. That proved to be the case Saturday afternoon as Souhegan out-distanced Division II foe St. Thomas Aquinas 34-25 in the season opener for both.
Signal-callers Luke Manning and Austin Jain provided much of the offense as the Sabers rolled up 339 yards. Manning, a junior, is more of a run-pass option type while Jain is primarily a straight drop-back passer.
It seemed as though Manning’s style confused the Saints a bit more as the defense failed often in trying to contain him behind the line of scrimmage. Manning finished with 85 yards on the ground and 76 through the air. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for one. He also caught a pass for a score. Jain (9-of-16 for 119 yards) also tossed a touchdown pass before exiting midway through the third after taking a jarring hit. However, the junior seemed to be OK at game’s end.
“The run-pass option seemed to click with us today,” said Manning. ‘It really ended up working for us against their defense. Giving me that option helps us open up the field as well.”
Souhegan scored on its first possession when Jain connected with Manning for a 9-yard grab. STA answered on its first opportunity, marching 96 yards before quarterback Cam Paquette, who completed 29 passes on 53 attempts for 340 yards, found receiver Will MacLean for a 9-yard score.
The Saints jumped ahead 13-7 late in the opening quarter on a MacLean 60-yard catch and run. However, Souhegan shrugged that off by marching 73 yards on the ensuing possession, finished off by a Ryan Hauser 8- yard scamper into the end zone go on top 14-13. With just over three minutes remaining in the half, the Sabers went back on the attack as Manning, at quarterback, busted through the Saints defense for an 18-yard gallop.
Getting the ball back after a punt, Souhegan kept its momentum going as Manning connected with Jake Civiello on a 15-yard pass with 4 seconds showing to send the Sabers into the break up 28-13.
“Every week in Division II South its going to be a dogfight,” Bowkett said. “The team that stay together in the third and fourth quarters is the team that’s going to get it done. We hung in there today. Our town has always had athletes and we felt if we could hang in there we could grind out the clock. Today the kids got it done.”
STA, which finished with 370 yards, cut into the deficit to start the third. Taking advantage of a MacLean blocked punt, the Saints had the ball on the Souhegan 19. Needing five plays, Paquette found MacLean for a 5-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion try failed and STA trailed 28-19. A few moments later, the Saints got the ball back and got down to the Souhegan 9 but failed to score. That, in turn, allowed the Sabers to drive 91 yards, capped by a Civiello 15-yard touchdown catch to start the fourth. STA scored a short time later on Adam Stewart’s 9-yard reception with 6:40 showing. But they threatened no more as the Sabers defense stiffened the rest of the way.
“We knew we had to persevere today and I think we came together as a brotherhood,” said Manning. “We really took it to them, especially in the second half. Everyone stepped up today and did their part.”