Plymouth’s Dakoda Simula (left) and Ryan Farina (right) take down St. Thomas’ quarterback during the Bobcats’ 42-17 win Saturday afternoon at Zoulias Field. Matt Perloff. (click for larger version)
November 05, 2012PLYMOUTH — The end result may have been what most expected; it just took a little longer than usual to get there.
The Plymouth Regional High School football team overcame an early deficit with a strong second half, prevailing over upset-minded St. Thomas, 42-17 in the Division IV semifinals Saturday afternoon at Zoulias Field.
The short-handed Bobcats (10-0) struggled to keep pace with the Saints (6-4) as they trailed 10-7 at halftime. The second half was a different story though, as they scored five straight touchdowns to secure their second straight trip to the Division IV title game, where they will host a rematch with second-seeded Trinity this coming weekend.
The Bobcats started off strong, shutting down St. Thomas on the visitors' opening possession and forcing a punt. Plymouth started its first drive at the Saints' 45 and nearly covered the whole distance in four plays, getting big gains from Brandon Goodale and John Thomas to bring the ball down to the five yard line. Thomas was stopped at the one on the next play, but a penalty set the Bobcats back five yards and the Saints stood fast to force fourth down at the two. Plymouth went all-in though, and Thomas made good on the gambit as he crossed the goal line ahead of the St. Thomas attack. Silas Murray came in to boot the extra point kick, putting it through the uprights for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
St. Thomas opened its next possession with a 24-yard run, but the momentum vanished as Jared Kuehl and Ryan Farina stuffed the same ball carrier on the next play, then Thomas made a backfield stop a play later for a loss of two yards. The Saints tried to shake it up on third down with some back-and-forth lateral passes, but the Bobcat defense wasn't thrown as Farina and Dakoda Simula brought down the quarterback for a nine-yard loss and fourth down.
That's where things started to go awry for Plymouth. A bad snap on the Bobcats' first play allowed St. Thomas to reclaim the ball at the Plymouth 32, and a play later run it 23 yards to bring the action down to the nine yard line. The Bobcat defense persevered, with Kuehl and Brandon David combining for a backfield stop and Simula making another tackle for no gain before Chase Wyman, Noah Crane and Simula combined to bring down the quarterback for a four-yard loss on third down, making it fourth and long. St. Thomas decided to cut its losses, going for the field goal to make it 7-3 late in the first.
Plymouth's next possession was fruitless, and they punted to the St. Thomas 45, where the Saints set up another attack. They'd break several tackles for a 33-yard gain just two plays into the drive, then continued to whittle away yards before again getting down to the nine-yard line. The Saints quarterback would ultimately take it in himself, beating the Plymouth defense into the end zone as St. Thomas took a 10-7 lead with 8:38 left in the second.
Plymouth opened on its own 20 after a touchback and slowly worked its way up the field, but a penalty would negate one of their biggest charges of the drive, as Collin Sullivan made a 36-yard scramble that would be called back on a holding penalty. Sullivan settled for 17 yards and a first down on the next play, then added 13 yards two plays later before St. Thomas' defense struck back. Sullivan would try to run again as Plymouth faced fourth down and eight, but fell a couple yards short as the Bobcats turned the ball over on downs.
The Bobcats got one more shot to score when Kuehl delivered a hard hit on the quarterback to force a fumble, which Crane scooped up before falling at the St. Thomas 29. The opportunity was not to be, however, as Sullivan was hit on the first play of the possession and fumbled, putting the ball back in the Saints' hands. They'd ultimately run out the clock, keeping Plymouth in a rare 10-7 deficit heading into halftime.
Plymouth wasted little time making sure the second half wouldn't be the same. The Bobcats opened at their own 23 and steadily battled their way into St. Thomas territory behind handoffs to Goodale and Kuehl. Thomas would bring it into the red zone on back-to-back carries for 17 total yards, then Kuehl took it another 12 yards, making a dive for the end zone but coming up just shy as Plymouth set up first and goal two yards from the goal line. Thomas would power through the middle two plays later and Murray made the extra point to put the Bobcats back in familiar territory, leading 14-10.
St. Thomas managed nothing on its next possession and Kuehl delivered another sack before the Saints were forced to punt, only getting it to their own 31. The Bobcats were eventually pushed to fourth down, but Sullivan made his first and only pass of the day count as he connected with Kyle Hodges, who stayed up along the sideline before finally getting knocked out of bounds at the Saints' four yard line. Kuehl rumbled into the end zone a play later, putting Plymouth up 21-10.
The Saints' hopes came completely undone on the next possession. A big sack by Kuehl and Kyle Reisert knocked their starting quarterback out of the game and the backup's first pass attempt sailed into the hands of Goodale, who caught it on the run and didn't stop until he'd reached the end zone. With Murray's extra point, the Bobcats had surged ahead 28-10 with still a minute to go in the third.
Plymouth got the ball back 10 seconds into the final frame, opening at the St. Thomas 45. The Bobcats erased most of that on big runs by Goodale and Justin Robinson, while Thomas would finish off the drive with a six-yard charge up the middle, squeezing through for the touchdown and a 35-10 lead. St. Thomas' next possession lasted just one play, as a deep pass that looked like it would fall incomplete instead ended up in the hands of Cody Vachon, who made a sliding catch to intercept and set up another Bobcat drive at the Saints' 35. Big runs by Goodale and Thomas eventually brought the ball down to the eight yard line and Goodale took it in three plays later for the touchdown and a 42-10 lead.
St. Thomas would add a last-minute touchdown as Plymouth brought in its reserves down the stretch, but the game was well out of reach as the Bobcats came away with the 42-17 win.
Despite a slow start, the Bobcats eventually found their usual form despite a number of regulars out or seeing limited action due to injuries, including both starting ends. "You have to give credit to the guys who stepped up," said head coach Chuck Lenahan. "It was an incredible effort."
Goodale, who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the season against St. Thomas two weeks ago, added another 112 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries to bring his season total to 1,229 yards. Thomas ran for 70 yards on 14 carries, scoring three touchdowns, while Kuehl carried for a touchdown and 47 yards on eight handoffs.
The defense had a solid afternoon as well. Kuehl delivered seven tackles and assisted on seven, plus two sacks while shifting all over on defense trying to fill holes left by injuries. Thomas delivered nine tackles and seven assists, while Brandon David had five tackles and five assists despite a sprained ankle. Simula helped plug up the middle with four tackles and four assists, while Farina had six tackles, six assists and a sack and Crane also turned in a solid performance. Farina and Chase Wyman were also key on offense, opening up holes for the running game with impressive blocking throughout the afternoon.
The Bobcats hope to be back in top form this weekend as they host the state championship game against defending champion Trinity, who survived a 20-13, come-from-behind win over Windham to set up the rematch of last year's title game. Plymouth will look to complete the revenge it began earlier this year with a regular season win over the Pioneers, taking the field at 1 p.m. For more information, visit nhiaa.org.