NASHUA — The Bishop Guertin High School football team felt like it was being overlooked as one of the better teams in Division I and the Cardinals were ready to prove how good they were against Salem on Saturday night.
Bishop Guertin made the statement it wanted to.
Salem entered the game as the top-ranked team in the Union Leader Power Poll, but No. 8 Bishop Guertin’s defense held the Blue Devils scoreless for three quarters. The offense, led by quarterback Matt Santosuosso, did enough in the second half to build a 17-0 lead that the Cardinals would protect in a 17-14 victory at Stellos Stadium.
“People have ideas of how good teams are, but if we stay healthy, we’ll be alright,” Bishop Guertin coach John Trisciani said. “We don’t really know what we have and neither does anybody else, so we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Bishop Guertin improved to 2-0 after opening the season with a 34-13 win over Keene.
“It’s big for those kids,” Trisciani added. “I told some of them towards the end of the game that if we can pull this out, that’ll create a great high school memory that they’d never forget.”
Salem (1-1) bulldozed its way to a 62-36 victory over Nashua South last week. Despite 347 offensive yards Saturday night, the Blue Devils couldn’t find the end zone until the hole was too steep to climb out of late in the fourth quarter when Aidan McDonald (20 rushes, 145 yards) caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Noah Mustafa and he ran in for a score from 11 yards out.
“Give BG all the credit in the world; their coach had a great game plan,” Salem coach Steve Abraham said. “We played great defense; we miscommunicated a few times. Offensively, we moved the ball up and down the field, and we turned the ball over three times.”
The teams headed to halftime in a scoreless tie. Bishop Guertin had its first two drives of the game stall deep in Salem’s territory, and a late Salem drive late in the first half ended at Bishop Guertin’s 2-yard line when Thomas Ahers (seven rushes, 72 yards) was stopped short.
Bishop Guertin opened the second half with a risky — but successful — onside kick. That opportunity was squandered when Ahler intercepted Santosuosso on fourth down, but he was tackled at his own 2-yard line.
Bishop Guertin’s defensive front took advantage of the situation, as Jakob Baker tackled McDonald in the end zone for a safety with 7:34 left in the third to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
“It’s clearly a game plan to fly around and be as physical as possible on defense,” Trisciani said. “That interception acted like a punt. It was just hitting those gaps and getting after it. Baker was unbelievable today.”
Santosuosso’s biggest weapon was his legs as he churned out 95 yards on 26 carries, but a pair of completions totaling 33 yards to Chase Amaral helped set up his 1-yard touchdown quarterback keeper to give Bishop Guertin a 9-0 lead with 4:57 left in the third quarter.
After Salem fumbled on its ensuing possession, Bishop Guertin put together a 13-play, 81-yard drive that was highlighted by a 31-yard screen pass from Santosuosso to Charlie Bellavance on third-and-15 from Salem’s 44. Bellavance (18 carries, 62 yards) finished the drive with a 11-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion catch from placeholder Dante Nieto off a bad snap to give Bishop Guertin a 17-0 cushion with 5:18 left in regulation.
“This meant a lot, especially Salem being ranked No. 1, and we all had a chip on our shoulders,” Santosuosso said. “It was definitely our defense. We just all had energy, we all came together and got it done.”