BEDFORD — It’s official: The gap between Pelham High and the rest of Division III is a canyon.
The Pythons proved it for 10th straight game, scoring on offense, defense and special teams to beat Trinity 50-14 on Saturday for their second straight Division III football championship.
“When you construct a game plan, you hope it goes this well,” said Pelham coach Tom Babaian. “People really need to look at (the players’) accomplishment. This was an unbelievable season.”
“Amazing,” said senior captain Noah Coppinger, enjoying the moment amid the postgame celebration at Bulldog Stadium. “Even if we did win it last year (in a COVID-altered season), it was great being able to lead this team.”
It’s hard to imagine a greater degree of dominance from a football team.
Entering Saturday’s contest, Pelham averaged 49.5 points per game on offense, allowing an average of 4.3. The Pythons blanked three of their final four regular-season foes and beat Kearsarge 46-6 in last Saturday’s semifinals.
Saturday, the Pythons scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, then added Kevin Bodenrader’s blocked punt that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown and Ethan Demmons’ interception-turned-TD. They led 36-0 at halftime.
Junior quarterback Jake Travis directed the show, scoring three TDs on his seven carries and finishing with 109 yards rushing. He threw two passes; the first went for an 11-yard TD to Bodenrader to get the train rolling in the first quarter.
Trinity coach Rob Cathcart was impressed by the Pythons, whom he classified as “just as good as a lot” of New Hampshire teams in higher divisions.
“You see some good teams on film, like Kearsarge (which beat Trinity in the regular-season finale) against (Pelham) and you say, ‘How does that happen?’ Then (Saturday) you see it’s obvious how that could happen. There are 11 great football players across the line.”
But before Saturday, there was one question mark that had prevented the Pythons from being, potentially, an 11-0 team: a cancellation of the Oct. 8 game against Trinity when the Pioneers suspended operations after positive COVID-19 tests within the program.
So we never really knew how Pelham and Trinity would match up.
Needing to control field position and avoid big plays early, the Pioneers could do neither. After a short punt and a penalty tacked on, Pelham began its first drive from the Trinity 18. Three plays later, Travis found Bodenrader over the middle.
A Trinity three-and-out later and Travis darted 48 yards, setting up his own 8-yard TD scamper at the left pylon.
And the Pythons weren’t all big-strike. On their ensuing possession, they drove 65 yards in 10 plays, culminated by Travis’ 1-yard sneak. Antonio Furtado, who was 6-for-6 on extra points, made it 21-0 halfway through the second quarter.
Bodenrader’s scoop and score and Demmons’ 35-yard pick-six against harried Trinity QB Jack Service made it 36-0 with 4:02 remaining, forcing running time the rest of the way.
Travis scored on a 10-yard option run, and Scott Paquette found the end zone on the 14-run before the Pioneers’ Devohn Ellis scored twice, on a 7-yard run and a 21-yard leaping reception a pass from Service.
Trinity, the 2019 Division III champ, amassed 128 total yards. The Pioneers finished 8-2.
So how did the Pythons do it? How did they dominate the competition all season?
“It has to do with working our (tails) off in practice,” said Coppinger, a two-way lineman. “If we had a bad practice one day, we’d come out harder the next practice.”
“They (the players) had great focus with everything they did,” said Babaian. “All the credit to them.”