By Chris Paul
It was a tale of two halves in the Division I State title game on Saturday afternoon, as the Londonderry High School Football squad turned a slow start into a momentous 24-14 victory against the previously undefeated Winnacunnet Warriors to regain their DI crown.
The victory came after a slow first half start turned into a rapid two-touchdown lead in the third quarter at a filled-to-capacity Bill Ball Stadium at Exeter High School on Nov. 20.
Fans filled the stands and all around the field to witness what turned out to be a very exciting game between two of the best football teams in the state.
The Warriors came into the game boasting an undefeated season record and the Lancers had only lost one game, making them the visitors in the match-up.
The total offense in the game was very even, Londonderry had 318-yards while WHS had 319-yards.
Lancer junior quarterback Drew Heenan threw the ball 11 times, completing nine of them, for 200-yards in the air.
Heenan also led the team on the ground, carrying the ball 19 times and tallying 76 rushing yards.
The LHS squad managed to keep the penalities down this week with just five for 55-yards.
Turnovers were a big factor in the contest, with the Warriors giving up the ball three times, two on fumbles and one interception and the Lancers did not commit any turnovers.
The game started slowly, with Winnacunnet possessing the ball nearly the entire first quarter and Londonderry had a long possession stretched across the first two periods and one very short one to end the first half.
The Warriors started the scoring in the first quarter with a very hard fought, one-yard touchdown by Kyle Tilley, after the Londonderry defense made a number of good stops, but some ill-timed penalties kept the Winnacunnet offense on the field in that initial drive.
The LHS squad had a long sustained drive of their own to end the first and well into the second, but the Warriors held them to an unsuccessful fourth down finish inside their 10-yard line.
Winnacunnet took over on downs and marched down the field again, only to have their second drive of the game end with an interception by Lancer senior Anthony Salcito at the LHS one-yard line with under a minute left.
With time expiring after that touchdown saving INT, the Lancers had to regroup during the halftime break trailing in the game 7-0.
After that break, it took just a minute and a half for the Londonderry side to tie the game with a shift in the momentum.
Heenan completed his pass to junior wide receiver Andrew Kullman for a 63-yard touchdown pass and run, getting the Lancers fans out of their seats for the tying TD. Junior kicker Dylan Wrisley added the extra point to knot the game at seven.
Three minutes later, sophomore runningback Jake Schena helped made it 14-7 with a 12-yard run for the Lancers second touchdown in the third. Wrisley added the extra point.
Winnacunnet tied the game with three minutes left in the quarter after a long pass and a 9-yard touchdown run by Tucker McCann.
Before the period ended, Heenan and Kullman connected again to retake the lead with an outstanding 33-yard passing play. Wrisley’s extra point made it 21-14 at 1:09 in a very productive third quarter for the Lancers.
That would be all the offense the Londonderry squad would need for the victory, but Wrisley added a three-point field goal from 32-yards out with five minutes left in the game.
The Lancer defense forced another turnover by the Warriors with two minutes left in the game after LHS junior lineman Ryan Pemberton recovered a fumble forced out with a sack on the WHS quarterback by senior Riley Boles.
The Lancers were able to end the game by taking a knee to run out the clock and celebrate another DI title. This was their second title in three seasons, the last one coming in 2019.