Gilford’s Brendon Murphy (left) makes a block on a West player during a kick return in the third quarter on Saturday. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
June 25, 2012DURHAM – While the game didn't quit turn out the way they had hoped, the local players on the East team for the inaugural CHaD East/West New Hampshire High School All-Star Football Game had plenty to smile about when all was said and done on June 23. The contest, which featured graduating seniors from all over the Granite state, raised over $300,000 for the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth.
"It's unbelievable," said Gilford High School's Brendon Murphy of the event. "First of all, being part of such a great cause for the kids. It all started when we got to walk in Dartmouth and it really added an element to this game. We all knew what we were playing for and we wanted to play our hearts out. Win or lose, we did a great thing for the children and that's what really mattered here."
Murphy was one of a handful of Lakes Region players selected to the game, with Inter-Lakes High School seniors Conor Donovan and Tanner Quinney also taking part in the inaugural event. The East team, which all three played on, fell to the West, 44-12, at Cowell Stadium on the campus of the University of New Hampshire.
"It always sucks to lose but you just have to remember that it's for the kids," Donovan said. "All of us really don't care that we lost. The biggest thing for us is that this was the first year for this game ever. The Shrine Game's been around for 59 years, the Super Bowl's been around for a long time. But this is the first ever. I'm never going to play in a first-ever game again so this was really cool."
Fundraising was a key component of the All-Star game, as many involved with the contest had been touched by CHaD in one way or another.
"There was a kid on our team who raised over $5,000," Murphy explained. "It was never a competition for us on who could raise the most money though. Getting the home locker room (for raising more money than the West team) was nice, but we knew what the money was going for. And everything CHaD does for everyone else, not only the children in Dartmouth, but everyone else in the community, is fantastic. To give back to them after they've given so much to other people feels amazing."
Donovan, who was elected one of the captains of the East team by his teammates, got things going in a promising way by booting the opening kickoff into the endzone for a touchback. He finished the day with a 38.6 yard per punt average, as well as a game-high 11.5 tackles on defense, including 11 solo. No other player had more than four tackles, and he also scored a touchdown on a one-yard run in the third quarter, his lone carry of the afternoon.
"I was like, 'Oh man I hope I don't mess this up," said Donovan of the opening kickoff. "The first quarter was definitely the hardest because I wasn't used to the speed and size. But I started to get the hang of it and the rest of the game felt comfortable. Overall it was just amazing. I didn't think I was going to get (named as a captain). I'm thinking, I'm D-VI, no one is going to vote for a kid from D-VI but as soon as I heard my name called, it was pretty sweet."
The East team fell behind 30-0 in the second quarter and was never able to claw its way back into the game. Donovan's TD in the third quarter got the side within 37-12 with 10:01 left in the third quarter, but the East was unable to score the rest of the way in the blowout defeat.
"We lost the ball a lot. We made our own mistakes," said Murphy, who started at safety and saw some snaps on offense as well. "The ball wasn't really going our way. But being able to spend nine days with these guys, two a days on the weekend, it was a great bonding experience. The first day we walked in, no one was really saying much to each other. Then by the end we were all best friends and it seemed like we had been playing together as a team the whole year."
The build up to the game and everything surrounding it was certainly a unique experience for the players. The East team featured players from every division in New Hampshire, something the Lakes Region players enjoyed.
"I've always wondered in D-VI what it would be like to play in a bigger division against more talent and things like that," said Murphy. "I finally got a chance to witness it. The level of competition is above and beyond, and that makes it that much more fun."
Donovan, who plans to attend Dean College in Franklin, Mass. in the fall, agreed, saying he thought the adjustment to getting back into football shape didn't take nearly as long as some might expect.
"It was pretty easy because this is all the best players in the state so we all know what we have to do to get ready to play a game," he said. "We're only told once what we have to do and we do it. We don't have to be told twice. Obviously jumping into a new defense and a new offense was different but other than that I think we were ready to go."
East head coach Bill Raycraft, who coaches at Windham High School, was impressed with what he saw from the Lakes Region kids, especially coming from smaller schools and programs.
"I was asked earlier in the week about that and one of my favorite things about that was the Division I kids, the Division VI kids would all just get along," he began. "It didn't matter what school you went to or how big it was. Conor got elected captain by his peers. It was just great. For me, Conor I had heard about. But Murphy and Quinney were a little less known. But they could've started both ways and played the entire game. You wouldn't have known they were from one school or another. It was a pleasure working with those kids."
Murphy, who will attend Stonehill College in the fall, made four tackles to help pace the East, while Quinney made one catch for nine yards out of his tight end position.