PELHAM — Seventeen days ago, the sky fell on Pelham’s football season.
The unbeaten Pythons got the news that there would no postseason due to positive COVID-19 tests within the high school community. A season that had seemed destined for a state championship was gone in a flash.
But then a lifeline came, when high school and state regulators determined that Pelham’s first playoff game against Campbell could be played. The Pythons steamrolled the Cougars and then beat Monandnock to make it to Saturday’s state final.
And in the biggest game of the year, the magical season reached a perfect climax as the Pythons cruised past Stevens 40-0 to win the Division III championship, the first for the school since winning consecutive Division V titles in 2007-2008.
“When our season got canceled, I had no words,” Pelham senior Cam Santolucito said. “I couldn’t function right for that entire couple days, and then it was the best feeling to hear we could play again. I love all these boys.”
Santolucito had one of Pelham’s three interceptions and had a slew of tackles in the interior to anchor a Python defense that never let the Cardinals get settled in on offense.
Pelham’s first interception came on the fourth play of the game, by senior Mason Fecteau, who ran it back 46 yards for a touchdown.
With an early lead, and the defense dialed in, the Pythons’ offense shined. Pelham scored touchdowns on all four of its offensive possessions to open a 34-0 lead going into halftime.
“We practiced all the things you saw today,” Pelham coach Tom Babaian said. “We practiced all week, and the kids played their hearts out. It showed on the field.”
Senior Jake Herrling saved his best for his last game in Pelham blue.
Herrling had touchdown runs of 5 and 59 yards in the first half and had a game-high 128 yards on nine rushes.
“It was for sure fun,” Herrling said. “We try to have fun every game. This pays off 100%. I’ve been working since I was a freshman. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a blessing.”
Sophomore quarterback Jake Travis was a steady hand for Pelham.
Travis went 2-for-4 passing for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Zach Jones had both receptions, and the touchdown came with two seconds left in the first half.
Running the offense, Travis kept the ball in his running backs’ hands and off the turf.
“Every game I give him more and more, and he responds,” Babaian said. “He’s done a great job all year for us. He runs the offense the way it’s supposed to be run.”
Stevens quarterback Owen Taylor went 8-for-25 for 113 yards for the Cardinals.
Pelham outgained Stevens 319-166.
The 40-point margin of victory was the largest margin in a Division III championship game since Souhegan beat Milford 41-0 in 2004.