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Brennick, Baillargeon help Sciacca to a final win

Granite State trounces Vermont 34-20 to take Shrine Bowl title

FORMER KENNETT standouts Tanner Baillargeon (left) and Max Brennick represented the Eagles in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl Saturday. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
August 09, 2010
WINDSOR, Vt. — Going into the 57th annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl on Saturday in Windsor, Vt., New Hampshire coach Ken Sciacca was a perfect seven-for-seven as a Shrine Bowl coach.

Walking off the field for the final time in his illustrious coaching career on Saturday evening, Sciacca won his eighth Shrine Bowl (third as head coach), with New Hampshire defeating Vermont by a 34-20 score in a game that was marked by scores of penalties and a flock of turnovers.

This year marked the first time that each quarter of the game was 12 minutes instead of 15 and Sciacca knew going in that Vermont's offense was capable of scoring quickly, meaning he'd have to have his offense in gear as well.

"We have to run the ball," he said as he watched his team warm up. "This is a good team we're playing and they can score quickly."

However, New Hampshire sure didn't get things started in a quick way, as the offense stalled on its first drive, fumbling the ball away less than three minutes into the game.

Runs from Michael Cavanaugh of Manchester Central, Steve Jellison of Souhegan and Derek Furey of Timberlane helped move the ball from the shadow of the goal posts, but a fumble on fourth and inches gave the Green Mountain boys their first chance on offense.

Three plays later, Plymouth's Kyle McAuliffe picked off a Vermont pass to give New Hampshire the ball back.

Runs from Cavanaugh, Furey and Jellison again moved the ball up the field, but quarterback DJ Petropulos of Souhegan threw an interception on New Hampshire's first pass of the day and Vermont had yet another chance.

Vermont moved the ball down the field, with Plymouth's Colin Hay and Kennett's Tanner Baillargeon making big hits for New Hampshire and after a couple of penalties, Vermont was forced to punt.

However, Connor Lyons of Trinity fumbled the punt return and Vermont got the ball back with 20 yards to go to the end zone.

After an eight-yard pass moved Vermont to the 12-yard line, McAuliffe stepped in front of another pass and broke off down the field, racing 90 yards for the touchdown and a Shrine Bowl record for the longest interception return for a touchdown, breaking a record that had stood since 1968.

Lyons booted the extra point and New Hampshire had a 7-0 lead with 5:02 to play and it was a lead they would never relinquish.

Vermont went three and out on the next series, but another New Hampshire turnover gave the green and white the ball back one play later. However, on Vermont's first play from scrimmage, Laconia's Brian Bozek stepped in front of a pass to get his team the ball back. Three plays later it appeared that New Hampshire was about to give the ball back, as Sciacca had his team punting away, but a penalty for too many players on the field gave the Granite State boys the ball back and after runs from Jellison and Furey, quarterback Dylan Brodeur of Nashua North hit Ryan Simpson of Pinkerton with a pass for a 47-yard touchdown reception. Lyons booted the extra point and New Hampshire's lead grew to 14-0.

Vermont closed out the first quarter unable to move the ball and New Hampshire took over again to open the second quarter.

Runs from Cavanaugh and Jellison moved the ball nicely down the field for New Hampshire and then Furey carried in from 13 yards out for a touchdown with just under three minutes gone in the second quarter. The extra point missed, but New Hampshire still had a 20-0 lead.

The New Hampshire defense held strong on Vermont's ensuing possession, with the only first down coming on a penalty and once again, New Hampshire got the ball back on a punt.

New Hampshire's possession didn't last long, as a fumble two plays in gave Vermont the ball back and this time, the Green Mountain kids did their job, using three plays to punch the ball into the end zone to cut the lead to 20-7 with 5:55 to play in the half.

Because of a strange Shrine Bowl rule that dictates that if a team scores when down by more than a certain number of points, that team gets the ball back, New Hampshire had to kick off to Vermont after the green and white scored and Vermont put together a huge drive, moving the ball up the field with passes and runs. Baillargeon, Benjamin Callahan of Exeter, McAuliffe and Plymouth's Colin Hay almost had picks on the Vermont drive, with McAuliffe and Hay both tipping a pass on fourth and 12 that allowed New Hampshire to get the ball back.

However, four plays later, an interception gave Vermont the ball back and they moved down the field again, using screen passes and runs to finally find the end zone with 22 seconds on the clock, cutting the lead to 20-14.

That lead lasted all of 13 seconds, as a little trickery on the kickoff return netted big results for New Hampshire.

Josh Luciano of Pelham took the punt and handed it to Trinity's Jake Castricone, who in turn handed it to Lyons. He then turned on the guns and bolted up the field, outpacing the Vermont defense all the way to the end zone for what would amount to an 88-yard touchdown for New Hampshire. He then booted the extra point and New Hampshire was up 27-14 with nine seconds left in the half.

Sciacca noted that the play was designed by coach Tom Sawyer and the team had worked on it during practices leading up to the game.

Good defense by Jake Finnegan of Londonderry, Baillargeon and McAuliffe helped keep Vermont off the scoreboard on the opening drive of the second half and McAuliffe broke loose for a big run on second and 18 when New Hampshire got the ball back. Baillargeon then finished off the drive, taking a big block from his Kennett High School teammate Max Brennick and running to the left and into the end zone with 6:29 on the clock in the third quarter. Lyons kicked the extra point and New Hampshire was up 34-14.

Vermont came back with a long drive to eat up the clock, but a huge defensive play by Darren Brown of Salem on fourth and one stopped the Green Mountain drive and New Hampshire got the ball back.

However, the Granite State kids punted away as the fourth quarter opened, unable to move the ball. Vermont also stumbled in its first possession of the fourth quarter, with Baillargeon, Brown and Hay providing big hits on defense. New Hampshire also struggled on its second possession of the quarter and Vermont gave them the ball right back with a fumble on second down of their ensuing drive. Josh Cherok of Laconia recovered the fumble after Barry Powers of Con-Val got through to knock the ball loose.

Jellison and Furey moved the ball forward for New Hampshire, but on fourth down, Brodeur was sacked and Vermont got another chance. It was a chance that they could do nothing with, however, as the New Hampshire defense held strong, with Kevin Rosenberg of Nashua and Bryan Airoldi of Milford making key stops.

Another New Hampshire fumble gave Vermont the ball back again and they needed just one play to find the end zone, cutting the lead to 34-20 (extra point missed) with 4:17 to play.

Again, the strange rule came into play and Vermont got the ball back. They moved the ball down the field quickly and went for a field goal on second down. However, Bozek blocked the initial point and after an incomplete pass on third down, Vermont tried another field goal and again New Hampshire blocked it and from there, runs by Jellison, McAuliffe and Furey allowed the Granite State to run out the clock on the 34-20 win.

"That was a crazy game," Sciacca said after celebrating with his squad. "We had seven turnovers and still won by 14.

"I think we could've won easily if we didn't have so many penalties and turnovers," he continued.

Sciacca gave most of the credit for his team's win to the defensive secondary, which was able to shut down Vermont's passing attack. Starters Baillargeon, Hay, Luciano and Callahan earned the coach's praise.

"The defensive secondary was outstanding," Sciacca said. "That was the difference today."

Sciacca, who retired from coaching at the conclusion of last season, was also pleased to be able to coach two of his players, Baillargeon and Brennick, one more time.

"They both played a lot of football and did a great job," Sciacca said. "I coached the last two Kennett kids to play in the Shrine Game (Dan Grinnell and Josh Donabedian in 2003), so it was nice to coach these guys. Hopefully Kennett will have more in the future."

The former Eagles were also psyched to win one for their coach.

"Once we walked into Kennett, he took us under his wing," Baillargeon said. "He's such a great coach and he knows so much about football."

"He's the best coach we've ever had and it was an honor to play for him one more time," Brennick stated. "It really means a lot to go out with a win.

"This game was 100 percent for him," Brennick noted.

Baillargeon will be headed for a postgraduate year at Bridgton Academy, where he will be continuing his football career. Brennick was unsure of his fall plans, but noted that a football future may be in the cards for him at Bridgton as well.

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