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Carroll County classic

Eagles rally to sneak by Knights in county championship battle

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

THE KENNETT EAGLES celebrate their Carroll County championship on Friday night in Wolfeboro. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 04, 2013
WOLFEBORO — Abe DeMaio stood on the field, staring at the scoreboard, seemingly stunned at what he saw as the Kingswood Knights broke from their postgame meeting after Friday night's Carroll County championship.

The Kingswood senior was not alone in that feeling.

The Kennett football team scored 28 points in the final 13 minutes to erase a 20-0 Kingswood lead and retain the Carroll County Cup for another year, leaving Kennett fans screaming in celebration and Kingswood fans, much like DeMaio, in stunned shock.

"That wasn't the first time I've had to go and wake a team up," Kennett coach Mike Holderman said. "We got refocused."

The Eagle coach credited his coaching staff with making a few adjustments at the halftime break.

"The coaches did a good job at the half making adjustments," Holderman said. "We knew things were open offensively, we just weren't hitting it."

"They didn't do anything different than we thought we'd see," Kingswood coach Chip Skelley said of the Eagles. "But we didn't think they could stop Tommy (McCullough) and thought we could run outside."

In the first half, Skelley couldn't have been more correct, as the Knights controlled the game and handled everything the Eagles threw at them.

That began on the first drive, as the Knights marched down the field methodically, going 66 yards through the air and on the ground.

Brad Smart and quarterback Dan Eldridge carried the ball and also hooked up through the air as well. McCullough got a pass on third down to move the ball inside the 20 and Smart carried another 12 yards to put the ball at the four. From there, he and Abe DeMaio got it to the one and Eldridge carried it in with 8:14 to go on the clock. Jeff Madden booted the extra point for the 7-0 lead for the Knights.

The Kingswood defense then battened down the hatches, stuffing Kennett backs Nate Emerson and Nate Arnold, forcing a Kennett punt. The Eagles did the same, as Arnold and Casey Sandman got in the backfield for a big stop. Kingswood punted and Kennett took over, but on the first play from scrimmage, the Eagles fumbled and Rory Coughlin leaped on the ball and got the Knights the ball back.

The Knights then put together another good drive, this one going 60 yards down the field. Smart, DeMaio and Eldridge carried the ball down the field. Campbell Wales temporarily stopped the march with a nice stuff, but McCullough caught a big pass on third and fourth, moving the ball to the 14. And from there, it was McCullough again, catching a pass from Eldridge in the end zone with 50.8 seconds to go in the quarter. Madden booted the extra point for the 14-0 lead for the Knights.

An 11-yard run from Emerson got Kennett off on the right foot to open the next rally, closing out the quarter. However, on fourth and nine early in the second quarter, quarterback Will Pollard was stopped just short of the first down, giving the Knights the ball back.

The fact that Pollard was still in the game in the second quarter went against Holderman's plan. The Eagle sophomore quarterback was injured in his team's game at Pembroke two weeks earlier and missed the last game. The plan was to ease him back into action with one quarter of play on Friday night. However, backup Nick Graziano was injured in the first quarter, forcing Pollard to stay in the game.

"He wasn't himself," Holderman said, noting the usually mobile quarterback kept his running to a minimum. "But he controlled the offense."

Skelley also noted that they knew Pollard wasn't at 100 percent and tried to take advantage of that.

"We figured Will wouldn't be running as much," Skelley said. "And we figured he'd have to get rid of the ball quickly."

Kingswood took over, but couldn't get a first down and punted away. Kennett took over and Arnold moved the ball up the field for one first down, but on fourth and seven, Emerson came up short and the Knights took over.

Josh Stanley ran for 14 yards right out of the gate and Kingswood appeared to be moving nicely, but a fumble ended the drive, as Kennett's Drew McDonald recovered the ball and Kennett took over.

The Eagles did absolutely nothing on offense and had to punt and Kingswood took over again. Smart and Eldridge ran the ball and McCullough hauled in another pass, this one putting the Knights inside the 15. However, the Kingswood defense came up big, stopping the drive just short of the end zone. Madden booted a 22-yard field goal with 23.6 seconds to go in the half for a 17-0 lead for the Knights.

A big return from Emerson and a big pickup from Arnold gave the Eagles one last chance with less than a second to go in the half, but the pass was incomplete and the teams went to the half with the Knights up 17-0.

A Zach Mason sack put Kennett in a tough position to open the third and they punted away. Kingswood was able to move down the field, despite a sack by Arnold, using a fake punt from McCullough to pick up a first down. The Kennett defense didn't let the Knights in the end zone, but Madden booted a 26-yard field goal for a 20-0 Kingswood lead.

Kennett's next drive saw Pollard complete passes to Grant Meserve and Tommy Donovan and runs from Arnold and Ryan Stevens, but on fourt and three, Arnold was stopped by Mason, giving Kingswood the ball back.

Steve Cotton, Shane O'Neil and Axel Olson all had big defensive stops for the Eagles and they got the ball back near midfield. Two plays later, Emerson broke free for a 52-yard touchdown run, putting Kennett on the board with 22 seconds to go in the period, 22-6.

The Eagles weren't done yet, as Adam Hutchings dived on the onside kick, giving the Eagles another chance and on the second play from scrimmage, Arnold broke free for a 40-yard touchdown run and converted the two-point conversion as well, cutting the lead to 20-14 with 4.3 seconds left in the third.

The onside kick was something Holderman had his team work on a lot in practice.

"We've done that all year, it's always part of the game plan," the Eagle coach said. "Axel made a great kick."

The Knights were forced to punt on their first drive of the fourth and Kennett came back, with Abram Giles making a big catch on second and 15 for a first down. Arnold, Stevens and Donovan had big gains on the ground and on fourth and nine from the 18, Pollard found Olson in the end zone, tying the game at 20. McCullough stopped Pollard on the two-point conversion, but the Eagles had the score tied with 6:45 to go in the game.

Freshman Bowen Wales got the Eagles the ball back just two plays later, as he intercepted a pass, setting Kennett up in good field position inside the 40. Arnold picked up a first down on fourth and inches and then carried in from one yard out with 3:10 to go. Arnold also converted the two-point conversion for a 28-20 lead.

The Knights responded quickly, as Eldridge hit McCullough with a pass all the way to the 14 yard line on the second play from scrimmage. It appeared the Knights had a touchdown on fourth and 10, as Eldridge found Mike Garbedian in the end zone, but a penalty brought the ball back and the Knights came up short, allowing the Eagles to run out the clock.

Skelley was quick to point out that the fact that his team was even near the end zone in the final minutes was a testament to how his squad has changed.

"For them to believe in themselves enough to get that touchdown to tie, we've come a long way," Skelley said. "They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and said we can do this."

He also noted that the Knights struggled the most when DeMaio had to leave the game with an injury in the second half. Fellow captain LeMay was playing with a separated shoulder the entire game as well, limiting what he could do.

"There's a lot of positives, but at the same time, we want it to hurt a little," Skelley said. "They can remember that hurt when they're in the weight room."

Holderman also had nothing but praise for his Carroll County rival.

"Chip's guys were amazing," Holderman said. "He has changed the culture here.

"This was the game for them, if they beat Kennett, they have momentum going to the offseason," the Eagle mentor said.

He noted that he couldn't pinpoint a real reason for the tough start except a lack of execution.

"We preached all week we want to get ourselves momentum heading to the playoffs," Holderman said. "We didn't have a bad week of practice, but we just didn't execute.

"But those last 14 minutes we were able to put it together and do some good things," he added.

The Eagles finished at 5-4 and will now move on to play the Plymouth Bobcats in the North Conference championship, which takes place on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. in Plymouth.

"I've been watching film," Holderman said. "We fought them for the first drive or two (on Sept. 21), but didn't put it in.

"They'll be ready," he added.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com.

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