PORTSMOUTH — Ryan Francoeur has a plethora of talented running backs at his disposal as the coach of the Winnacunnet High football team. Sometimes, by the end of a game, he doesn’t realize how much work Tucker McCann ends up getting.
The senior conquered the challenge of being the workhorse for his coach during Friday night’s game against Portsmouth/Oyster River from the beginning until the end. McCann rushed for two first-half touchdowns and finished with 163 yards on 28 carries to lead undefeated Winnacunnet to a 21-6 Division I victory over Portsmouth/Oyster River.
Winnacunnet improved to 6-0 after entering its fourth week as the No. 1 team in the Union Leader Power Poll.
“He’s a great football player and a great teammate. He’s tough, he’s fast and he’s everything you want out of a football player every week for us,” Francouer said. “We have so many backs that we’ve got going that I sometimes don’t remember who made the plays. But then I remember that is was him who had a big run.”
McCann was coming off a week in which he gained 142 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown in a 40-6 win over Dover. He also scored the deciding touchdown two weeks ago in a 14-7 victory over Exeter, and now has 583 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
“Tucker ran for over 100 and something last week but he was still upset about the fumble he had and you could see it was a point of emphasis for him,” Francoeur added. “He was lights out again tonight. It helps a lot that we have a lot of backs that are productive and spread the work for us.”
Winnacunnet gained 328 of its 363 yards on the ground while holding Portsmouth/Oyster River (4-2) to a total of 67 offensive yards. Matt Alkire (66 yards) and Chris Capezzuto (57 yards) also chipped in for an offense that controlled the final 15 minutes of the game.
The Warriors took a 21-0 lead late in the third quarter after a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Kyle Tilley, when a quick three-and-out gave the Warriors the ball back with 3:02 left in the quarter.
Portsmouth/Oyster River’s Brandon Park returned a fumble 50 yards for a TD with 9:51 left in the fourth quarter.
Winnacunnet responded by never giving the ClipperCats the ball back again by ending the game with a 15-play drive that ended when Tilley took a knee at the ClipperCats’ 6-yard line. McCann gained 33 yards on eight carries on the drive, finishing with runs of 12 and 7 yards.
“It was a battle of toughness. I just kept running through the holes as hard as I could and that was my only thought process because they hit hard,” McCann said. “It was just adrenaline and I was feeling good. I just love running it once they hand it to me.”
Winnacunnet fumbled the ball away at the ClipperCats’ 1 on the opening drive, continuing a weekly trend of turnovers that the Warriors have overcome. Winnacunnet’s four turnovers on Friday gave them 12 over the past three weeks.
After stopping the ClipperCats on the ensuing drive, McCann gave Winnacunnet a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter with a 3-yard scoring run. McCann followed a 16-yard run early in the second quarter with an 11-yard touchdown scamper to give Winnacunnet a 14-0 lead with 8:56 remaining in the first half.
“It was a great effort considering the defense was on the field for the last 15 minutes of the game,” CipperCats’ coach Brian Pafford said. “We wanted to take away the long, big plays and for the most part we did that. (McCann) ran his (butt) off.”
Portsmouth/Oyster River will likely have to win at least two of its final three games of the regular season to have a chance to make the Division I playoffs. The ClipperCats travel to Dover (3-3) on Friday.
“The effort on our part was phenomenal; I can’t ask for any more,” Pafford said. “They’re No. 1 for a reason. They have everything going.”
After sweeping its way to a 4-0 record in the East Division portion of its schedule, Winnacunnet finishes the season with three games against the North Division, beginning with Saturday’s game at Goffstown (3-1). The Grizzlies beat Winnacunnet, 27-15, in last year’s Division I semifinals.
“Every week we’re just trying to get better and we’ve got a tough game against Goffstown,” Francouer said. “They ended our season last year and we’ve got to go there and it’s one of the toughest places to play in the state. We’re going to have to put our best effort forward.”