John Thibault

Trinity’s John Thibault picks up yardage during the state Division III final on Nov. 24 against Lebanon. Thibault is Division III Player of the Year.

No matter who his team was preparing to play each week, Trinity of Manchester football coach Rob Cathcart knew the opposing defense’s main goal: shut down running back John Thibault.

Few teams achieved that goal this past fall and none did so in October.

Thibault, a senior who transferred to Trinity from Newport High School ahead of his junior year after his dad, Dave, became the superintendent of the Diocese of Manchester, rushed for 11 touchdowns and more than 860 yards over a 4-0 October campaign for the Pioneers. He also returned a fumble and an interception for scores in Trinity’s 69-22 win at Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough Oct. 12.

For his performance over the Pioneers’ four October victories, Thibault was chosen as the October Apple Therapy Services/Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center/Express MED Athlete of the Month by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.

Thibault opened his October run by rushing for 175 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries in Trinity’s 31-24 triumph over previously unbeaten Campbell of Litchfield in the Pioneers’ final home game at Gill Stadium. Perhaps Thibault’s biggest contribution to the victory, however, was serving as a decoy on the game-winning touchdown that his younger brother, James, a sophomore, ran in from nine yards out on fourth down.

James punched in the game-winning score on a run that looked similar pre-snap to a speed-sweep play that Trinity had called earlier in the game.

“The play we ran for the touchdown in the Campbell game, we hadn’t run that play the whole game — we fake to John in one direction and handing (to) James in a reverse the other direction,” Cathcart said. “They hadn’t seen that yet and we were able to get (James) outside and he made a really good, athletic move to duck his shoulder and get inside the last defender, make him miss to get the ball in the end zone.”

Thibault, who served as a captain this past fall, was ecstatic when he saw his younger brother reach the end zone.

“It was awesome,” Thibault said. “I ran up, gave him a big hug and hit him on the butt.”

Cathcart called Trinity’s triumphs over Campbell and Monadnock of Swanzey on Sept. 28 “keynote wins” on the team’s run to capturing the NHIAA Division III title this fall. Thibault said both those victories helped set the tone for the rest of Trinity’s unbeaten October.

The Pioneers followed their overtime win over Campbell with their lopsided triumph at Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough. Alongside his two defensive scores, Thibault rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown in the victory. He then helped power Trinity to a 36-21 win over Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton in the Pioneers’ first football game at their new athletic field at Derryfield Park Oct. 20.

Thibault accounted for all but 71 of Trinity’s 325 yards of total offense against the Redhawks, rushing for a game-high 254 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. At outside linebacker, he helped the Pioneers defense hold Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton senior running back Colby Quiet, who won the September Athlete of the Month Award, to 67 yards on 21 carries.

Thibault credited his offensive outing against the Redhawks to Trinity’s game plan, finding little things that worked well throughout the contest and the offensive line.

“I think the way their defense was set up, we realized if we stick to our basic blocking schemes, we’ll still get a good chunk of yards every time we run the ball,” Thibault said. “We added more sweeps off the pitch. Those ran really well. We ran those a lot from that game on to the end of the season.”

Cathcart helped set his defensive unit up for success with his knowledge of Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton’s offensive scheme, the Wing T, which he used to run. That, paired with the Thibault brothers’ speed at linebacker, helped contain Quiet, Cathcart said.

“That game, we had John play right and James play the left,” Cathcart said. “They just had to know what was coming at them, see their keys, then tackle Colby Quiet, who is a terrific back, a very fast kid, but they both match up well with him because they’re both pretty fast linebackers and we were able to keep him under wraps.”

Thibault capped his October campaign with four touchdown runs, which came from 60, 44, 75 and 94 yards out, in Trinity’s 36-13 win over Stevens of Claremont Oct. 26.

The Pioneers (11-1) ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak before defeating Newport, 35-0, in the quarterfinals, Stevens, 48-15, in the semifinals and Lebanon, 28-21, in the Division III championship game. Thibault ran for at least 117 yards and two touchdowns in each postseason triumph.

“He’s a phenomenal running back,” Stevens coach Paul Silva said of Thibault after his team’s semifinal loss to the Pioneers Nov. 16. “He’s physical and he’s elusive. He’s fast and he’s just hard to get on the ground. You’ve got to take your hat off to him. He’s a fantastic player.”

Other athletes considered for the October honor were Bishop Brady of Concord girls’ soccer player Sheridan Brummett, Keene State College men’s soccer player Emmanuel Smith, Saint Anselm College football player Eric Fairweather and Derryfield School of Manchester field hockey player Lindsey Stagg.

Brummett, a sophomore forward from Bow, scored 39 goals as Bishop Brady went 7-1 over its eight October games. Smith, a junior midfielder from Concord, registered two goals and four assists over a 5-4 October campaign for Keene State.

Fairweather, a senior quarterback from Londonderry, completed nearly 60% of his passes (85 of 174), threw for 844 yards and nine touchdowns and was intercepted four times over a 3-1 October run for Saint Anselm.

Stagg, a senior from Windham, recorded nine goals and two assists over a 5-0 October campaign for Derryfield that included a 6-0 Division II quarterfinal victory over Sanborn of Kingston.

Previous 2019 winners: January, Mike Robinson, Bedford (hockey); February, Brooke Kane, Derry (basketball); March, Cody Ball, Londonderry (basketball); April, Dempsey Arsenault, New Hampton (lacrosse); May, Cody Morissette, Exeter (baseball); June, Grace Devanny, Concord (outdoor track); July, John DeVito, Nashua (golf); August, Lauren Thibodeau, Hampstead (golf); September, Colby Quiet, Hopkinton (football).

To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at sports@unionleader.com and enter “Athlete of the Month” in the subject line.

Athlete of the Month recipients are honored at the annual Leaders: A Celebration of Sports Champions event held in February.