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Title dreams come up just short for Bobcats

Late touchdown leads Souhegan past Plymouth in D2 championship

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by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Salmon Press Newspapers

Coach Chris Sanborn and captains (l to r) Trevan Sanborn, Joe D'Ambruoso, Cody Bannon and Sean Griffiths pose with the Division II runner-up plaque after Saturday's championship game. (Photo by Joshua Spaulding) (click for larger version)
November 26, 2020
AMHERST — Forgive any Plymouth football fans who were feeling a little déjà vu during the Bobcats' battle with Souhegan in the Division II finals on Saturday afternoon.

On the road, against a team dressed in black, the Bobcats trailed by a 20-7 score heading to the fourth quarter and came charging back to take a 21-20 lead.

Back in the second game of the season, the Bobcats scripted that story against the Kennett Eagles, leaving North Conway with a 21-20 comeback win.

On Saturday, they scripted that story again, but this time, the Sabers spoiled the party, as they scored a late touchdown and kept the Bobcats off the board to take the 26-21 win and the Division II championship.

"Last year (loss to Hollis-Brookline in the championship) was a tough situation with the weather (downpours), but I don't think we fought," said Plymouth coach Chris Sanborn. "I told them before the game, you have to answer to yourself if you gave it all you have.

"Down 20-7, the came all the way back and took the lead," the Bobcat coach continued. "That's the fight in those kids."

Joe D'Ambruoso battled his way around the end and stretched into the end zone with 5:29 to go in the fourth quarter, tying the game at 20 and Will Fogarty's ensuing extra point gave the Bobcats the lead at 21-20 and things were feeling a lot like that game in North Conway back in September.

But the Sabers did what the Eagles couldn't do, as they immediately battled back and about a minute and a half later, the hosts were in the end zone to take the lead. Kurtis Cross intercepted the two-point conversion try, putting Souhegan's lead at 26-20 with four minutes left for the Plymouth offense to go 83 yards.

However, a halfback option pass by Cole Johnston was hurried due to defensive pressure and the pass was intercepted by the Sabers, essentially sealing the Division II championship and an undefeated season for the Sabers.

"When you put yourself on the big stage, you risk defeat," Sanborn told his charges in the postgame huddle. "You fought to the end today."

Plymouth started the game out in classic style, with a clock-eating drive that ended in the end zone and a 7-0 lead.

Quarterback Cody Bannon was one of the chief contributors to the drive, which took place completely on the ground. Bannon ran four times, including the 19-yard touchdown run on third and one with 5:58 to go. Charlie Comeau and D'Ambruoso also carried the ball on the drive and Fogarty drilled the extra point for the 7-0 lead for the Bobcats.

That lead did not last long, however, as Souhegan's first play from scrimmage was a 68-yard touchdown run and the Sabers pulled even with the Bobcats. Plymouth then went three and out on their next drive and the Sabers used the rest of the first-quarter clock on their ensuing drive. Souhegan converted a fourth and one on the second play of the second quarter and two plays later, they were in the end zone from eight yards out and Souhegan had the 14-7 lead just 43 seconds into the second quarter.

Plymouth again was forced to punt on the next drive and the hosts again took the ball to the end zone on the ensuing drive, getting a touchdown pass with 7:56 to go in the first half. A bad snap on the extra point attempt kept the score at 20-7.

Plymouth made a good run at another scoring drive to close out the first half, as D'Ambruoso, Comeau, Dylan Welch, Calvin Swanson and Johnston all had carries as the Bobcats moved the ball down the field, eventually getting inside the 20-yard line but on fourth and four, Comeau's run came up a bit short, ending Plymouth's drive and sending the game to halftime with the Sabers up 20-7.

Souhegan got the ball to start the second half but the Plymouth defense came up big, with Swanson getting a nice stop on second and eight and then D'Ambruoso picking off a Saber pass with 9:10 to go, getting the Bobcats the ball back.

Things didn't go well for Plymouth's offense, however, as they were forced to punt after three plays and a bad snap on the punt attempt gave Souhegan the ball at the eight-yard line. Thankfully for the Bobcats, the defense was still up to the task, as D'Ambruoso stepped in front of another Souhegan pass for his second interception of the third quarter and giving Plymouth the ball back again.

This time, the Bobcat offense was able to get moving, as Johnston, Comeau, D'Ambruoso, Bannon and Swanson all had carries as they ate up the rest of the third-quarter clock to get the ball inside the 10-yard line as the quarter came to a close.

Bannon had the first three carries of the final frame, carrying for five yards on the first play, two yards on the second and then taking the final yard into the end zone with 10:28 to go. Fogarty's extra point cut the lead to 20-14.

The Plymouth defense was stout again. After allowing a first down on the first play of the drive, the defense stepped up, with Kolby Cross breaking up a pass on third and 13 to force a punt.

Bannon hit Johnston to start the drive and then on second and long, Bannon found Joe Peters, who hauled in a 31-yard pass to bring the ball to the eight-yard line. Two plays later, D'Ambruoso fought his way into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown, setting up Souhegan's eventual game-winning drive.

"Little plays in a game like that, they make a difference," Sanborn said. "Kudos to Souhegan.

"This senior class, they played a lot of football, they had great high school careers," said Sanborn, who's oldest son, Trevan, was one member of that senior class. "It's disappointing to lose, I've been on the other side of it."

The Bobcat coach, who noted he was playing games at Souhegan before most of his players were born, said players sometimes ask how many games he's won and he said he doesn't really know.

"But, I can tell you every single time that I've lost," he said. "You learn more in a loss."

Also, he said he was much happier losing in the championship game than having to look at his players and telling them that they'd have no season.

"It's hard to come out on the losing end, but I'd rather be here and lose than have no season," the veteran coach said.

Sports Editor Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 279-4516, ext. 155 or josh@salmonpress.news.

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