NHIAA Div. I: Well-balanced Tide top Exeter
CONCORD - Concord High School showed off its versatile, quick-strike offense and played some standout defense as well on the way to a 22-10 Division I semifinal win over Exeter on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Field.
The win puts the Crimson Tide in the title game for the first time since 2002.
Concord will host Pinkerton for the championship next Saturday.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Concord coach Eric Brown. "It's a great rivalry we've always had. They're probably going to come in with something to prove, to prove the last time was a fluke and all that good stuff."
The Astros gave Concord one of its toughest games all year before falling in overtime, 21-14, in Derry on Oct. 11.
With Saturday's victory, the Crimson Tide moved to 11-0 and one step closer to a complete turnaround for the program.
In 2009, when Brown stepped up to take over head coaching duties, Concord went 0-10.
Two-time defending champion Exeter closes out the season at 7-4.
"I'm proud of my guys," said Exeter coach Bill Ball. "I thought we played hard today. Do we wish we had two or three plays back? Of course, that's always the way it is. But they don't give them back to you."
The Blue Hawks would have liked a do-over of the last minute of the first half.
They took a 10-6 lead with 1:33 to go before the break on Matthew Oppici's 20-yard field goal.
Concord got the ball back on its own 30 after the kickoff and proceeded to march down the field.
Junior quarterback Rob Law connected with Seimou Smith to cover 36 yards to the Exeter 12. On 4th and 10 from the 12, Law dumped a pass off to Walters Ndi on the left side, and Ndi cut back into the middle before finding the end zone. Law kept on the 2-point conversion run to the left side, and Concord had a 14-10 lead with 26 seconds left in the half.
"We had a two-minute drive last week against Central," Law said. "We had done it before. That was huge to go up right before the half, and it really swung the momentum, I think."
Concord mixed pass and run nicely in the short-order drive and throughout the day.
"That's one of the strengths of our team, our balance," Brown said. "I was real pleased with the way we executed on the drive and the patience Rob had on it. The whole team did a nice job. We had great pass protection. We made plays when we had to."
The final-minute score stung Exeter.
"I don't think we could have scripted the first half any better, except for the last seconds," Ball said.
Each team had its chances at the beginning of the second half.
Concord fumbled the kickoff away to open the half, but Exeter fumbled it right back on the next play.
The Blue Hawks made a goal line stand to keep it at 14-10, but then Concord's Seimou Smith intercepted a Joey Jones pass at midfield.
The Tide struck quickly again. A 34-yard Ndi run brought the ball to the Exeter 4. Sudieh ran it in on the next play, and Law hit Bakir Bascelic with a conversion pass, completing the day's scoring with 3:05 left in the third period.
Concord scored on its first possession of the game. After forcing an Exeter punt to start things, Concord needed just four plays to score on a Marc Gaudet 7-yard run. The conversion kick was no good.
Exeter answered with a vintage Blue Hawk drive, taking 18 plays to go 74 yards before finishing it off with an Inzenga 19-yard run for a 7-6 lead. The drive covered nine minutes and 55 seconds and no other play went for more than 6 yards.
The teams traded punts, and then Exeter linebacker Zach Adler sacked Law, passing from the Concord 32, forcing a fumble that Ricky Daley returned to the Concord 4-yard line.
The Crimson defense held strong from there, however, and Exeter got only the field goal for 10-6.
"The D-line really stepped up," Brown said. "Matty Campbell and Carl Corriveau in the middle were awesome today."
Brown cited the play of the linebackers, too.
It all went pretty well all around for Concord, actually, and now it's on to the championship game.