Yes, the Londonderry High football team’s 31-14 decision in the Division I South Conference title game against the arch-rival Pinkerton Academy Astros in Derry last Saturday, Nov. 8, went into the record books as a defeat.
But in a number of ways, it was hard for many Londonderry folks not to look at aspects of the hard-fought game as victories.
Prior to that playoff game, it had been some time since the Lancers had still been in line to, perhaps, bag a victory over a Pinkerton contingent in the fourth quarter of play. But in last Saturday’s game, first-year coach Jimmy Lauzon’s 8-1 team had the academy squad sweating out a victory before finally falling by the 31-14 tally.
After trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Lancers climbed back to within a single score of its undefeated opponent less than two minutes into the second half. But the host Astros managed to distance themselves from their pesky guests with a field goal and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to snag the victory.
Following an emotional team huddle after the contest had been completed, Lancers’ star quarterback Eric Fairweather found himself trying to come to terms with the defeat with tear-filled eyes and a shaky voice.
“We played our hearts out and left it all out here on the field,” he said. “We didn’t come away with the win, but we left it all out on the field.”
Londonderry’s standout senior signal-caller, who is in the running for 2014 Mr. New Hampshire Football honors along with Pinkerton star running back T.J. Urbanik, finished the big game with 118 rushing yards and one touchdown run and 77 passing yards with one touchdown pass.
Senior running back Dennis Bishop contributed 81 rushing yards but also got banged up quite a bit in the tough defeat.
The Lancers’ defense began the big game in exceptional fashion, literally tearing the football out of the grasp of Pinkerton star back Urbanik the first two times Urbanik carried the ball. Junior linebacker Gary Richard and senior lineman Kyle Byrd were credited with the take-aways.
Following the second of those turnovers, the Lancers rolled down the field on a 10-play drive that culminated with a 2-yard scoring run by Fairweather.
But Pinkerton senior signal-caller Jack Hanaway then led his side to 21 unanswered points before the half ended.
Hanaway enjoyed an exceptional opening half for his Astros, running for 153 yards and two touchdowns and also throwing for a big score.
The battle-tested quarterback ran 34 yards for points as time ran out in the first quarter to knot the score at 7-7.
The Lancers shot themselves in the foot in a big way on their subsequent offensive drive, pushing the ball all the way to the Pinkerton 1-yard-line before coughing it up on a key fumble.
And PA signal-caller Hanaway gave Pinkerton a 14-7 advantage on an 11-yard scoring sprint with 6:15 to go in the second quarter.
He later rifled a 32-yard touchdown pass to Peter Cyr with just 1:15 left in the half to send the hosts to halftime with the 21-7 advantage.
But with versatile senior Mike Ryan sidelined by an injury in the second half, the Lancers put junior Bobby McEachern into the game in Ryan’s place and reaped immediate benefits, with quarterback Fairweather connecting with McEachern on a 31-yard touchdown pass 1:27 into the third quarter to make it a seven-point game at 21-14.
But the Pinkerton gridders gained a bit of valuable distance from their pesky guests when place-kicker Kyle Cantalupo nailed a 36-yard field goal to make it a 24-14 contest with 7:49 remaining in the game. And the academy side put the game away, for all intents and purposes, on a 71-yard scoring sprint by junior running back Mike Curley with 3:13 showing on the game clock.
Hanaway finished the day with 165 rushing yards and 99 passing yards for the victors, while Urbanik wound up with an atypical 67 yards with his rough start to the contest.
“Our best running back, who hasn’t fumbled all year, fumbles the first two times he carries the ball. But you have to bounce back, and we did,” said PA coach Brian O’Reilly of his team’s ability to overcome Lancer successes in the game.
Lauzon and his charges were able to take considerable solace from the facts that they held Pinkerton’s top offensive weapon – junior back Urbanik – to just those 67 rushing yards and no touchdowns, and that they gave the PA juggernaut about all it could handle on its home field in a playoff game.