Coach Chuck Lenahan poses with captains (l to r) Hugh Kelly, Ryan Farina and Brandon Goodale after Saturday’s championship game. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 12, 2012PLYMOUTH — In a season of blowout victories, the Plymouth Regional High School football team made its last win one of the best Bobcat Nation has seen in a while.
Collin Sullivan unloaded a 27-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Farina in the final minute of play, while Justin Robinson recovered a fumble on the ensuing kick return to secure a 7-0 win over Trinity in Saturday's Division IV state championship at Zoulias Field.
The Bobcats (11-0) and Pioneers (9-2) continued a two-year rivalry with a rematch of last year's title game, and this would prove to be their tensest contest yet. A defensive battle from start to finish, Plymouth snapped a scoreless tie with one big play, then ensured Trinity wouldn't have a chance to do the same as the Bobcats take home their first title since 2009 and 12th in the past 16 seasons.
Trinity opened with possession and gained steadily behind several ball carriers. Plymouth was able to slow the advance, including a key third down stop as Jared Kuehl worked his way around tackles to knock over the Pioneers' Romeo Musuku for no gain. Well into Plymouth territory, Trinity decided to pass on fourth down, but John Thomas leapt into the line of fire for a one-handed interception, putting the Bobcats in control.
Plymouth would struggle to gain yardage in its first possession, and though they'd convert on their first fourth down attempt, they'd ultimately be forced to punt. Trinity would quickly battle back into Bobcat territory, but their momentum came to an abrupt halt as Farina stripped Ryan Carrier of possession, pulling the ball out of his hands to give Plymouth the ball at their own 35 as the first quarter wound down.
The Bobcats spent most of the second frame whittling away yardage as they tried to take command. They'd survive another fourth down as Thomas converted on fourth and inches, then he'd do it again one fourth and one keep the drive alive. Sullivan lofted a pass to Noah Crane to put the Bobcats at the edge of Trinity's red zone, then nearly scored on another throw to Dylan Hall, though it would fall incomplete in the end zone. Sullivan, Kuehl and Brandon Goodale would try to move the ball on the ground, but soon faced another fourth down, this time just four yards shy of the end zone. Sullivan tried to take it in himself, scrambling through Trinity's defense before finally getting taken down at the one yard line, leaving a valiant drive just short as the Pioneers reclaimed possession.
Both teams would come up fruitless on their next possessions, though Trinity would make one last push before the half. Setting up in Plymouth territory with 43 seconds left, a deep opening pass nearly ended up in the hands of Robinson and Trinity managed just four yards on the next play. A false start all but ended any hopes of a last-second score, though Kyle Reisert sealed the deal by sacking Carmen Giampetruzzi, closing out on a high note as the game entered halftime, still scoreless.
Plymouth took possession to open the third quarter, but came up empty and would punt after three plays. Trinity would take over and again made steady gains, though their biggest boost came on a penalty against the Bobcats, granting the Pioneers 15 yards and control in Plymouth territory. That would be the Bobcats last mistake of the drive, as Goodale ran Masuku out of bounds and Kuehl stopped the next two runs for short gains to force fourth down. Trinity decided to go for it, but was rewarded with a swarm of Bobcat defenders coming down on Carrier, who managed just one of the two yards he needed to force a turnover on downs.
Plymouth would punt again on its next possession, though the ball hit little forward momentum and would bounce back into Bobcat territory, giving Trinity possession at Plymouth's 46 yard line. A holding penalty two plays in would sour things for the Pioneers, who tried to run twice but managed little before punting the ball back to Plymouth.
The Bobcats quickly faced third down deep in their own territory when it looked like they'd get a big break, as Thomas took the handoff and leaped over a Trinity defender, to break away. He'd go well over 20 yards before being brought down, but he lost the ball in the process, and the Pioneers recovered to take over at the Plymouth 48.
Trinity retained control into the fourth quarter as they made their biggest push yet. After surviving one fourth down, the Pioneers got another penalty break as a personal foul against Plymouth moved play all the way to the Bobcat red zone, setting up first and 10 on the Plymouth 17 yard line. The Bobcats again rebounded, holding Trinity to three shorts gains to force another fourth down. The Pioneers needed three yards, but Plymouth instead took two away as they brought down Chambers behind the line of scrimmage, bringing a wave of relief to the hometown crowd as the Bobcats took possession at the 12 yard line.
Plymouth delivered another pair of big gains as Kuehl bounced through the middle en route to 24 yards, then Goodale followed up with 13, but the momentum died out on three short runs, but Reisert would punt the ball all the way to the Trinity 14. The Pioneers managed nothing on the possession, fumbling the first play and getting a pass broken up by Dylan Hall on third down as they too would punt.
Robinson would catch the kick and run it just past midfield, giving Plymouth possession at the Trinity 48 with four minutes to go. Goodale took the first two handoffs for nine yards, but the Bobcats fell short on the next play and would face fourth down again, but Sullivan would get the yard they needed to secure the first down. Goodale would carry on the next two plays, notching another first down as he swung around behind the line of scrimmage and took off down the sideline for 11 yards, bringing the ball to the Trinity 23.
The Pioneers stopped Thomas for a four-yard loss on the next play, but with the clock still running into the final minute, the Bobcats went for a big gain and fast. Sullivan took the snap and dropped back for a pass, but he wouldn't have much time to find a target as Trinity defenders descended on him. The junior quarterback, sacked three times already, wouldn't let a fourth come in that critical moment and was able to get a pass off just ahead of the attack. That pass would find its mark in the end zone as Farina, who'd caught just two passes all season, hauled in 27-yard toss and came down inside the goal for the touchdown, sending Plymouth into a frenzy as they took the lead. Silas Murray added on the extra point, giving the Bobcats a 7-0 lead with just 49 seconds left.
Trinity had proven it only needed seconds to turn a game around before, so Plymouth's defense would need to step up one last time as the kicking team took the field. Murray's kick was short, but the Pioneers couldn't rein it in, ultimately leaving a live ball bouncing on the gridiron. That gave the Bobcats an opening to end it right there and Robinson sprinted in to recover the ball, leaping on it to turn possession back over to Plymouth. The offense came back out to secure the inevitable, running out the clock as the Bobcats became champions once again.
The offense persevered against a strong Trinity lineup, converting four out of five fourth down attempts and making big gains down the stretch. Goodale finished with 79 yards on 21 carries, while Kuehl ran 43 yards on nine carries and Thomas added 35 on eight attempts. Sullivan hit four of five passes, including three for double-digit yardage.
The defense turned in an outstanding all-around performance, led by Kuehl with 10 tackles and 10 assists and Thomas with 10 tackles, eight assists and an interception. Though his highlight of the day came on offense, Farina turned in a strong defensive effort with six tackles, nine assists and fumble recovery. Dylan Hall turned in five tackles, seven assists and blocked a pass, while Reisert, despite a hand injury, finished with eight tackles, seven assists and a pair of sacks. Brandon Hughes (five tackles, eight assists) and Jon Hughes (three tackles, four assists) also both came through despite injuries. Linemen Dakoda Simula (four tackles, seven assists) and Chase Wyman (two tackles, six assists) turned in stellar performances plugging up the middle. Trinity managed just 120 total yards on the afternoon, compared to well over 200 for Plymouth.
The playoffs brought a thrilling end to an overall dominant season for Plymouth Regional High School football, which earned its first title and undefeated season since 2009. Despite having only a few returning regulars entering the season, the Bobcats brought a healthy mix of juniors and seniors to the gridiron as they swept through the regular season, then persevered through injuries to score a come-from-behind win over St. Thomas in the semifinals before clearing stopping Trinity in the title game.
The Bobcats face many challenges in 2013. They will part ways with 13 seniors, including tri-captains Brandon Goodale, Ryan Farina and Hugh Kelly; linemen Dakoda Simula, Chase Wyman, Spencer White, Will Pfeifer and Joseph Campagna; ends Jon Hughes, Noah Crane and Kyle Hodges; and defensive backs Brandon David and Dylan Hall. The NHIAA will also be trying a new three-division format next season, which may pit Plymouth against many larger schools, including foes from its Division III days. Still, the Bobcats will head into 2013 with a solid core of returning players, and hope to build off the success they've once again achieved through Pride and Tradition.