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Bobcats fake out Laconia to return to title game

Plymouth’s Taylor Newberry leaps over a Laconia defender during his 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 21-14 win. Matt Perloff. (click for larger version)
November 08, 2011
PLYMOUTH — In a game where punts provided the most costly moments for Plymouth Regional High School football, faking one would ultimately put things right.

The second-seeded Bobcats turned a fourth quarter fake punt into a 68-yard touchdown run, which proved to be the decisive score in their 21-14 victory over third-seeded Laconia in the Division IV semifinals Saturday afternoon at Zoulias Field.

Fourth down provided some of the most critical moments between Plymouth (9-1) and Laconia (7-3) as the rivals battled almost evenly for four quarters before the Bobcats delivered the surprise fake punt, turning it into a game-winning score to get the Bobcats back into the championship, where they'll try to regain the Division IV crown this weekend against undefeated Trinity.

Laconia received the opening kickoff, but couldn't manage a first down after three plays and went to punt. What looked like a standard punt and return went awry when Brandon Goodale dropped the kick, allowing the Sachems to sprint in and recover and resurrect the drive at Plymouth's 44 yard line. Laconia made it count three plays later, as David Mahoney broke away for a 39-yard touchdown run, followed by an extra point kick to put the Sachems up 7-0.

The Bobcats started their first possession on their own 20 and immediately put Taylor Newberry to work, giving the senior fullback most of the handoffs on the first drive. The Bobcats survived an early fourth down and Will Horan converted to keep things going, then Newberry and Cole Brooker battled their way up to the field before Brooker took a shovel pass from Horan and sprinted for the goal line, staying in bounds long enough to reach the corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Will Melanson complemented the score with an extra point kick, tying the game at seven with just seconds left in the first quarter.

Plymouth struck again on their next possession. The Bobcats started on their own 30 and were near midfield when Brooker broke the drive open as he dragged Laconia defenders on his way to a 16-yard gain. They'd later survive another fourth down as Newberry converted on fourth and three, while Brooker would finish things off again four plays later, taking an eight-yard carry into the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead after the extra point by Melanson.

Neither side threatened in the final minutes of the second quarter, giving the Bobcats the one-touchdown advantage at halftime. Defense continued to dominate early in the third quarter, as both teams went three-and-out on their first two possessions of the frame. Plymouth's defense kept Laconia in check both on the ground and in the air, getting big tackles from John Thomas, Corbin Boucher and the Reisert brothers, while Ryan Farina broke up one pass and Newberry nearly intercepted another.

Things took a sour turn late in the third quarter as Plymouth was forced to punt deep in their own territory. A late kick gave Laconia enough time to leap in for the block, which bounced off to the side and back before the Bobcats could recover, eventually getting downed at their own 13 yard line and turning possession over to the Sachems. Plymouth would keep their gains short, including a four-yard loss delivered by Kyle Reisert, but Laconia eventually prevailed as Mahoney slipped through the middle for a seven-yard touchdown run. They'd go on to add the extra point, tying the game back up at 14 with just over 11 minutes to go.

The Bobcats opened up their next possession on their own 25, then came up short of a first down over the next three plays, leading to fourth down and three on their own 32. They set up for a punt, but with Newberry taking the snap, the Bobcats faked the punt and ran with it. Newberry not only picked up the first down, but kept on going as he sprinted across the field, with whatever Sachem defenders Plymouth didn't leave stunned getting pushed aside by some key blocking from the rest of the Bobcat squad, especially as Newberry became pinched along the sideline. The gambit ultimately paid off in full though, as he finished off the 68-yard trek for the touchdown. Melanson once again delivered the extra point kick, putting Plymouth back on top 21-14 with under nine minutes to go.

Laconia again tried to go to the air on its next possession but Goodale broke up back-to-back passes to leave the Sachems deep in their own territory on fourth down, leading to a punt and Bobcat possession with 6:55 left in the fourth quarter. Plymouth spent its next drive draining the clock, making small but steady gains to keep control of the ball as the minutes ticked away. The Sachems eventually regained possession, but the Bobcats' efforts were hardly in vain, eating up over four minutes and taking all of Laconia's time outs with it. Needing big yards and fast, the Sachems once again tried to pass, but Brooker and Jared Kuehl broke up one pass while Laconia's only completion did little as Thomas slammed into the receiver, driving him back to just a one-yard gain. Laconia reached its do-or-die moment with fourth down and only a minute to go, but the Sachems' final pass attempt instead found Newberry, who intercepted the pass and eventually downed it at Laconia's 30 yard line. Plymouth kneeled to run out the clock, sealing the win and a trip to the championship.

The Bobcats kept Newberry busy with nearly 40 carries on the afternoon, rushing for over 190 yards and a touchdown, while Brooker took 11 handoffs for over 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Defensively, Thomas and Kyle Reisert each delivered five tackles and six assists, while Nick Reisert and Ryan Farina made four tackles and assisted on seven. Cole Brooker had four tackles, four assists, a knocked-down pass and plenty of blocking, while Kuehl also delivered four tackles and four assists, while also delivering the final block to pave Newberry's way to the game-winning touchdown. Goodale also provided some key defense, not only breaking up two pass plays but also delivering critical blocks in Newberry's touchdown run. The defensive line was also stellar, with Calime Littlefield and Nick D'Ambruoso leading the way in plugging up the middle and keeping the Sachems' running game limited.

Plymouth has once again bested Laconia, but now they face the biggest challenge of their season as they prepare for a rematch with top-ranked Trinity. The Bobcats nearly scored an upset during the regular season, only losing as the Tigers scored twice in the final five minutes for a 12-7 decision. It is still a telling performance in a matchup that was one-sided in Trinity's favor the year before, leaving the door wide-open for both teams as the quest for the Division IV title reaches its conclusion.

The state championship game was slated for Saturday at 1 p.m., at Gill Stadium in Manchester, however there was a possibility that the game would change. For additional tournament information, visit nhiaa.org.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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