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Lakers go out in style

Perfect season for the I-L/MA football team capped off with dominating performance in state title win over Epping-Newmarket

Conor Donovan, Hayden Jurius and Conor Langille pose with coach Paul Lavigne and the state championship trophy after besting Epping-Newmarket Saturday. Richard Greenwood. (click for larger version)
November 14, 2011
MEREDITH – For the second time in three years, Meredith is the football capital of Division VI.

Behind a bruising ground attack led by seniors Conor Donovan and Tanner Quinney, the Inter-Lakes/Moultonboro Academy football team captured the D-VI state championship on Saturday, as the top-seeded Lakers scored all their points in the first half of a 29-7 win over second-seeded Epping-Newmarket at Burrows Memorial Field.

"It's a flood of emotions," said senior lineman Hayden Jurius. "Bittersweet I guess would be the word to describe it. It's great to win the state championship, it's great to go undefeated, but it's over for the seniors now. Where do you go from here? Monday is probably going to be the most lonesome day of my life but it's just a great feeling."

It was the second meeting of the season between the top two teams in Division VI, and this one played out much differently than the regular season matchup, where I-L/MA(11-0) held on for a 3-0 defensive battle in Epping.

"It was one of those games I had a funny feeling if somebody scored fast, I figured the pace would be off and it wouldn't be like last time," said Lakers head coach Paul Lavigne. "They moved the ball pretty good the first drive but then our defense did what they did all year. They only gave up seven points and that's pretty darn good. We played hard, we played intelligently and we played physically."

While Epping-Newmarket (8-3) marched into I-L/MA territory on each of its first two possessions, the Lakers defense didn't break. The offense came around midway through the first quarter, as Lavigne dialed up three passing plays – all completions – after starting conservatively during his team's first drive.

"We knew that they were a good defensive team, they'd send eight guys in the box and come get us," the veteran coach explained. "So I had to come up with something where in the first series I was going to run the ball then after that I was going to mix it up. I think that was a pretty good game plan."

Lakers quarterback Mitch Jurius hit Nick Sindorf and Sander Danielovich for completions, while Donovan and Quinney gave the offense balance on the ground to move the ball to the E-N 24. On second down, Jurius faked to Donovan and hit Sindorf cutting over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown strike that put the Lakers up 7-0 with 3:59 left in the first quarter.

"When we lost to them 3-0 during regular season we were clicking on all cylinders defensively," said E-N head coach Ryan Francoeur. "I told the kids not to expect a 3-0 football game today…I definitely knew that wasn't going to happen today."

The lead grew earlier in an action-packed second quarter, as an 11-play drive, mostly on the ground, was capped off when Donovan stiff-armed a defender and scored on a six-yard TD run to put the hosts up 13-0.

With all the momentum belonging to I-L/MA, the Blue Devils finally got on the board almost immediately following Donovan's TD. On E-N's first play from scrimmage at its own 20, the Devils called a reverse, and Dustin Jarosz took the ball 80 yards up the right sideline for a score that cut into the deficit at 13-7 with 10:14 left in the second.

"I don't mind giving up a score, I just don't like giving up an 80-yard score…that's too fast," said Lavigne. "And it kind of brought us back to reality a bit."

"We got caught on a bad play," admitted Hayden Jurius. "We were stunting one way and they ran the other way. It was just a good play call for them."

The quiet E-N sideline was now back in the game, as it was the first points the Devils scored all year against the Lakers.

"It fired me up, it fired the kids up," said Francoeur. "Now if our defense can stand up like they have all year, we're right in it."

But as they've proven all year, the Lakers were plenty resilient when it counted the most. Donovan scampered 30 yards on the first play of I-L/MA's next drive, and Mitch Jurius hit Quinney for an 11-yard TD on a flat pattern out of the backfield to reestablish the two score lead at 20-7.

"The offensive line played amazing," said Hayden Jurius. "The holes were huge, you could've driven trucks through them. And we didn't have that last time down at Epping. It showed today what we can do when we're all together."

The Lakers weren't done though, as Donovan kicked a 38-yard field goal to push the lead to 23-7 with 5:48 left.

He saved his best run of the day for just before halftime however, as the big senior rumbled 66 yards behind a perfect sealing block from Sindorf with 2:30 left to complete the scoring at 29-7. Donovan rushed for a game-high 209 yards on 24 carries, including the two TDs.

"I just ran like I stole something," Donovan said laughing about the 66-yard score. "I'm big but I'm not the fastest guy in the world. But luckily I was able to pull away."

The I-L/MA defense was the story in the second half, as the Blue Devils managed just one drive into Lakers territory and couldn't chew into the large deficit.

"Overall they're a good defense…they're big, they're physical, they're fast," said Francoeur. "We joke watching film because it's like 'They've only got 11 out there? It looks like they've got 15.' That's what it feels like sometimes because they're so swarming defensively."

With the game in hand for most of the second half, Lavigne was given the victory water cooler dumping as the fourth quarter wound down. The usually stoic Lakers finally showed some emotion after the long season came to an end with the state crown.

"I was crying in the third quarter," Hayden Jurius said with a laugh. "I really had to suck it up just to get up to the line. In the last plays, it was such a rush and everyone was a mess. It's great to see the big tough football players break down and cry every now and then."

To see his talented senior class go out with a title was also thrilling for Lavigne, as he watched his 2009 team also capture a championship.

"Anytime you win a state title, going out (as a senior) it's a beautiful thing," he said. "I think it's really special going 11-0 as well. That's a great package.

"Scoring 29 points, that's pretty good," he continued. "(Epping-Newmarket) only gave up 55 all year. I think that was great for our kids….we kind of told the kids about that. Our offense clicked pretty good and we were a little bit more balanced."

Mitch Jurius finished 6-of-12 passing for 70 yards and two TDs, while Quinney had 11 carries for 53 yards and two receptions for 17 yards and a TD.

"It's kind of hit me right now…and with about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, just thinking that we did it," said Mitch Jurius. "I won't be able to sleep tonight."

Donovan, who put together an all-around outstanding season, summed it up after the win.

"Dream come true," he said. "Everything just came down to this and it's the best thing that ever happened."

The line on both sides of the ball, paced by Hayden Jurius, Vanya Noordergraff and Kyle Fisk amongst others, saved perhaps its best performance of the year for the state title game.

"We needed to have a good offensive line today…Conor Donovan had a few runs right up the middle and that's Epping's strongpoint so I think offensive line was the big difference today," said Lavigne.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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