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Late rally propels Eagles to victory

COACH VAUGHN BECKWITH goes over strategy with the Kennett defense during action Friday night. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
September 26, 2011
NORTH CONWAY — For the first 45 minutes of Friday night's game with Hanover, the Kennett football team's offense struggled to move the ball.

But when it mattered most, the offense came up big and scored 10 points in the final 1:07 to give the Eagles a 10-7 win over the Marauders. This marked the second time in two years that the Eagles beat the Hanover boys in the final seconds of play.

Mike Lautenschlager caught a pass from Jesse Wheeler and fought his way into the end zone from 26 yards out with 1:07 to play in the fourth quarter. Connor Gillette kicked the extra point to tie the game at seven.

Then, the Kennett defense stood strong, as it had for most of the evening, and held Hanover to a three and out. The punt was messed up due to the Kennett pressure and the Eagles got the ball back at their three yard line. After a delay of game penalty, Gillette booted a 25-yard field goal with seven seconds on the clock to give the Eagles a lead. Chris Krug then picked off the desperation attempt from Hanover on the next play and the Eagles walked off the Millen Stadium grass with the hard-fought 10-7 win.

Kennett coach Mike Holderman said there was no way he wasn't kicking the ball after the touchdown. Going for two was out of the question.

"We fought that hard to get back in the game," Holderman said. "We didn't want to put it on one play whether we win or lose.

"We were ready to take our chances in overtime," he continued.

For the most part, the Kennett offense didn't particularly light the world on fire though the defense was stout for most of the evening.

The Marauders actually drove the ball down the field on their first drive and appeared to put the ball in the end zone, but a penalty drove the visitors back. The Marauders got down to the six yard line and on fourth and goal tried to punch it in, but Dan Blake came up with a big stop and the Eagles got the ball for the first time.

However, after a first-down run by Nick Massa, the Eagles were unable to move the ball and had to punt. The defense held tight and forced Hanover to punt as well, but the offensive struggles continued as the Eagles couldn't convert on a fourth down, as Massa's flea-flicker pass fell short.

Hanover took over and promptly scored, using just one play, a 65-yard run, to break through on the scoreboard with 43 seconds on the clock. The extra point was good and the Marauders had the 7-0 lead.

The Eagles were able to put together a solid drive as they opened the second quarter. Massa, Krug and Wheeler carried the ball for the Eagles to get a first down and Krug made another run and a catch to keep the drive alive. However, they were unable to convert on third and 12 and had to punt. The Eagles did lose captain Darien Vaughan to an injury just before punting.

Hanover put together a drive, but couldn't move the ball too far and had to punt the ball away. Kennett went three and out as well and Hanover closed out the half with the ball but couldn't add to the score and took a 7-0 lead at the half.

Kennett opened the second half with the ball, but on the second play from scrimmage, Wheeler's pass was tipped an intercepted and Hanover took over. However, the turnover parade continued, as Casey Sandman recovered a Marauder fumble to give the Eagles the ball back.

The Eagles put together their best drive of the game after Sandman's fumble, as Austin Weber, Massa and Wheeler moved the ball on the ground and Lautenschlager made a great catch of a tipped pass from Wheeler on a third and 12 situation. The Eagles kept moving the ball down close to the 20 yard line, but another fumble gave the visitors the ball back with a few minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Eagles got a big sack from Lautenschlager and Jon Saxby to end the third quarter and Hanover punted on the second play of the fourth quarter. However, Kennett's first play from scrimmage was intercepted and Hanover took possession. Lautenschlager got the ball back by recovering a fumble three plays later and Kennett moved the ball down the field, including a key fourth down dive from Wheeler.

But the drive petered out and the Eagles punted. Hanover also had to punt and the Eagles got the ball back with another chance to get on the board.

Wheeler hit Lautenschlager and Krug on passes to start the drive and after a penalty brought out a second and nine, Wheeler hit Krug for a 22-yard gain near midfield. Webber and Massa ran the ball close to a first down and Wheeler converted another fourth and inches with 1:46 on the clock.

Wheeler then hit Weber with a pass for another first down and after a short Massa run, Lautenschlager hauled in a pass and broke through tackles to the end zone. Gillette booted the extra point with 1:07 to play and the game was tied at seven.

The Eagle defense got a big sack from Cody Richard as Hanover tried to move the ball and when Hanover tried to punt from the end zone, the ball was fumbled and Kennett took over on the three yard line. Holderman sent Gillette out and he booted the field goal, sending the home crowd into a celebration.

Krug then capped off the celebration by intercepting Hanover's last grasp and Kennett had the win.

"The defense stepped up and played," Holderman said. "We just need to learn how to tackle."

Holderman was pleased that his team just dug in, no matter what the adversity.

"Whatever it was, the kids just dug in deep," Holderman said. "Jesse came through in the end and the receivers caught the ball when we needed them too."

Holderman also praised the work of Gillette.

"I don't see anything ever bother him," Holderman said. "He keeps to himself, he's quite and he goes out and does his job.

"The extra point was what we really needed, the field goal was just icing on the cake," he added.

Up next for the Eagles will be a trip to Penacook to take on Merrimack Valley at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at sportsgsn@salmonpress.com or 569-3126

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