Sophomore Nick Brothers wraps up Franklin quarterback Bruce Carey during I-L/MA's 27-26 victory at Burrows Field on Saturday. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
September 09, 2013MEREDITH – Jon Francis apologized for partially losing his voice. You couldn't blame the second-year head coach for that. He wanted a win in the worst way – so did his team.
With defending state champion Franklin High School in town for the Division III season opener at Charles Burrows Memorial Field on Saturday, the Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough football team did just about everything in its power to lose. The only problem was, they won.
Junior Kodey Converse scored a three-yard touchdown run as time expired in the fourth quarter to get the Lakers within one point, and sophomore Nick Brothers made the comeback complete with a two-point conversion run that gave the Lakers a stunning 27-26 win over the Tornadoes and sent the I-L/MA sideline into absolute bedlam.
"This team – and myself included – has just had that weight of last season on our shoulders, that 1-7 season," explained Francis, just minutes removed from a game that almost left him speechless. "Any time you can play ugly like that and leave here with a win, it's a pretty darn lucky thing. We have a lot of guys this year that don't know the meaning of the word quit. You really start to see that late in the game. I'm really proud of these guys."
It was as wild of a game as you're likely to see all season long. A bit reminiscent of I-L/MA's 14-13 loss to Stevens a year ago, the Lakers didn't give up. It would've been easy to, given the obstacles they had to overcome. Trailing just 20-19, the hosts had a touchdown called back with just over three minutes remaining due to an illegal formation penalty. One play later, Franklin's Kory Parent intercepted a pass and went 70 yards the other way for a touchdown to increase the lead to 26-19.
"We were all kind of down after that (touchdown) but Coach told us that it's not over," explained Brothers. "We had more than enough time to go down the field and score."
There was still the matter of a crucial two-point conversion however. Franklin initially tried to kick an extra point (it had already missed one badly in the first quarter), but the snap was bad and the play blew up. The Lakers were able to snuff things out and make a stop before the goal line, keeping it a one-score game with a small glimmer of light still shining through.
"That's just huge," said Francis of stopping the conversion. "It speaks volumes about the character and the types of kids we have on this team. They didn't play well, but they didn't quit."
The mood on the sidelines brightened following the defensive stand, and the team still had 2:39 on the clock to march down the field and score a touchdown.
"We knew we had to dig deep," said quarterback Kier Vicente, who battled cramps like several of his teammates did late in the game but still managed to complete 8 of 14 passes for 133 yards.
The crucial final drive got a big boost when Vicente connected with Converse for a 40-yard gainer to the Franklin 30 yard line. Things stalled from there for a bit however, and the squad was faced with a fourth and 15 from 35 with the clock ticking away. Brothers, who provided a huge spark to the tune of 58 yards on nine carries, came up huge with the game in the balance. The speedy sophomore took an inside trap and scampered 16 yards, extending the drive and giving his team a fresh set of downs.
Vicente would hit Converse again to convert a big third down on a 16-yard play to the 5, and an offside penalty moved the ball to the 3 with just 3.2 seconds remaining. That set the stage for Converse, who ran the same trap play Brothers had just seconds earlier for a touchdown that brought I-L/MA within 26-25 with no time on the clock.
The Lakers, like they did against Stevens last year in the exact same scenario (down by one, no time left), made the decision to play for the win. But what would Francis & Co. call for the biggest play of the game?
"I was a little unsure about running the same play twice in a row like that but Franklin was playing us for the sweep, QB keeper and our x-pass flat," Francis said of the potential for another trap run. "So I was on the radio with Coach (Scott) Blundo and I just decided to go with that trap again."
Brothers took the handoff from Vicente and navigated his way across the goal line for the two-pointer, setting off a raucous celebration and a 27-26 opening win.
"I was so nervous," admitted Brothers. "We were running the same play so I was kind of nervous there but also, it's kind of on me now to score. But the line did their job and I was able to make it. Literally the best feeling in the world."
With all the difficulties the Lakers ran into in the second half, it's almost miraculous that they still came out with the win. I-L/MA committed four huge penalties in the fourth quarter alone, with two touchdowns called back for infractions (a Brothers 23-yard TD catch and a Devante Carter 36-yard TD grab).
"We had opportunity after opportunity but we kept handing it back over," admitted Francis. "Right at the end after they got that last touchdown, the guys' heads were down but we pulled them together and told them this is why you practice two minute offense. The right things happened and it just ended up working in our favor."
Carter scored the Lakers' first touchdown, as he bounced right and accelerated for a 26-yard score with 3:02 left in the first quarter to make it a 6-6 game.
I-L/MA took its first lead of the game with 5:09 left before halftime. Vicente took a quarterback keeper right behind center and fellow captain Derek Rossetti for a three-yard TD and a 13-6 lead after a Dylan Sheehan extra point.
From there it was back and forth, as Franklin got two long touchdown runs from Parent (TDs of 62 and 48 yards). The Lakers kept pace with a defensive touchdown in the third quarter, as Nick Hurd recovered a fumble and waltzed two yards in for a score.
"We weren't supposed to win this game but we somehow found a way," Vicente said.
"We were down but we didn't let it get to our heads," the senior tailback explained. "It says a lot about this team and it sets the tone for the season. We've got a lot of work to do but we got the job done today."
Carter rushed for 114 yards on 12 carries and added four catches for 47 yards, while Vicente added 59 yards on the ground as well. Converse was huge on the final drive, as he made his only two catches of the game for 56 yards in the final minutes.
"The team stepped up in a big way today," said Rossetti. "We were sloppy and we made so many little mistakes but we came together as a team and we played as a unit."
NOTES: It was the first time the two teams played since 2011, when the Lakers were 38-7 winners on the road in Franklin en route to a perfect season that saw them claim a state title… The game was halted for nearly 15 minutes in the third quarter when a Franklin player was taken off the field in an ambulance after an injury… The Lakers ran an incredible 25 offensive plays in the fourth quarter compared to just three for Franklin… I-L/MA will now play the other D-VI state finalist from 2012 this weekend, as a road trip to Mascoma Valley is on the docket for Saturday.