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Newfound football clinches playoff berth

October 29, 2009
GILFORD — The Newfound Regional High School team has already had what's easily the best season in its varsity history, but they'd add the biggest milestone yet to its growing list of accomplishments this year, picking up a 13-0 win over Gilford to clinch their first-ever playoff berth.

The Golden Eagles were the only team left that could eliminate the Bears from the playoffs, but in a game where defense was the key element to survival, Newfound's came through big to keep Gilford on the ropes, stopping a strong second half showing to earn a spot in the Division VI state tournament, coming up in mid-November.

Turnovers and penalties played a big factor in the Friday afternoon contest, with both offenses struggling to put together a scoring drive. Newfound would lose the ball on a fumble on their opening possession, but survived their turnover as Kris MacLean intercepted a pass just shy of the end zone to rob Gilford of an early lead. The Bears battled all the way back to Golden Eagle territory and stood 25 yards out before the turnover bug struck again, this time with an interception by Gilford to halt the attack.

It looked like the game would go into halftime deadlocked, but Newfound strung together one final race for the end zone at time wound down. The Bears survived a pair of fourth downs, including a fake punt that Tyler Short turned into a 23-yard pass to Shannon Tucker, but with just ten seconds remaining, Newfound sealed the deal as MacLean connected with Short for an eight-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bears the advantage heading into halftime as Fisher Bourbeau added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

Gilford made it clear they weren't going down easily, whittling away yardage as they opened with control of the ball in the third. Their charge skidded to a halt as they reached the Newfound red zone though, finally stopped when Cody Lowrie made a tackle on fourth and two to stop Gilford just behind the first down marker.

Newfound set up another big opportunity when Tyler Short drew in a punt deep in the Bears' own territory, but a stellar run and plenty of blocking help from teammates allowed him to clear over 75 yards as he came down just a few yards short of the end zone. What followed was a mess of penalties and lucky breaks: Newfound took a 15-yard hit on an unsportsmanlike conduct call, then had a pass intercepted, only to be negated on a holding penalty against Gilford, instead moving the ball back down to the six yard line. MacLean tried to pass on the next play, his attempt falling incomplete, but a pass interference call against the Golden Eagles not only shaved another three yards off the distance to the goal, but gave Newfound the first down as well. The Bears didn't waste that extra life, as Tucker pushed his way through the Gilford defense two plays later and landed in the end zone for the touchdown, giving the Bears a 13-0 lead.

Newfound's lead continued to stand as the minutes ticked away in the fourth, but Gilford got an opportunity to battle back late when they recovered a fumble in the Bears' territory, setting up at the 40 yard line. They'd move to ball to the 23 one pass later, then tried to end the drive with a pass into the end zone, but the ball fell incomplete, forcing the drive to continue. That incomplete pass proved costly, as Bourbeau broke through Gilford's line and set his sights on the Golden Eagles' quarterback, pressuring him to throw the ball away and draw an intentional grounding penalty. Gilford then fumbled the next snap for another six-yard loss, and Frank Roach wrapped up the drive with a sack on fourth down, forcing a turnover on downs and allowing Newfound to eventually run out the clock for the victory.

Facing no worse than a tie for fourth with Newport and holding the tiebreaker over the Tigers, Newfound has officially earned one of the four spots in the Division VI state tournament, their first playoff appearance since becoming a varsity sport. The win over Gilford has also guaranteed the Bears' first winning record as a varsity program, as they stand at 6-1 in divisional play and 6-2 overall.

Though they're locked in for the postseason, Newfound still has plenty to gain with two game remaining in the regular season, including a contest with undefeated Inter-Lakes, one of their potential first round opponents. In the meantime though, they're off to Raymond for a Friday night contest with the 3-5 Rams. Game time is 7 p.m.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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