NHIAA Football: Central falls to Exeter
MANCHESTER - The Manchester Central Little Green drew the No. 1 team in the state for their semifinal match on Saturday, Nov. 10. They hung with Exeter for much of the game, but couldn't stop the Blue Hawks late and fell 42-21.
The loss knocked the Little Green out of the playoffs and advanced Exeter into the finals against Pinkerton, which dispatched Nashua South 42-3.
'Exeter is a great team and we actually played our A-game today,' Central head coach Ryan Ray said. 'We played tough, we played hard and we played pretty well, we just ran into a team that was certainly better than we were.'
Ray said his players knew heading in that they needed to play their best game of the season to defeat Exeter. The Blue Hawks lost just one game all season, and were a perfect 9-0 in Division I play. When the teams met on Sept. 14, Exeter won 49-0.
While the Little Green showed spurts where they could play with Exeter, they had a hard time putting it together on both sides of the field at the same time.
'We had a good start on defense and a bad start on offense, and then it kind of flip flopped a little bit as we went,' Ray said. 'If we're going to beat a team that's better than us, we've got to play pretty much perfect.'
The defense began the game with a stop, but the offense started deep in its own territory and couldn't move the ball. Later in the game, the offense began to click, but the defense was getting run over by the Exeter ground game.
Exeter ran for 305 yards - 170 of which came from Tyler Grant. Galen Antolini also pitched in 83 yards, Colby Swane added 35 and quarterback Ethan Joyce scrambled for 17 yards of his own. Grant got into the endzone three times on the ground, and also added a 27-yard touchdown catch.
'Grant's probably one of the top two or three best players in the state of New Hampshire,' Ray said. 'Our defense did just about as well as they could, under the circumstances. Exeter runs a well oiled machine on offense - not a lot of plays, but whatever they do, they do it well.'
With the Central defense struggling, the offense began to pick it up late in the second quarter.
Quarterback Riley Cote marched the Little Green downfield just before the half, capping the drive with a touchdown pass to make the score 28-14 heading into the break.
Central received the ball to start the second half, and put together a similar, 80-yard scoring drive. This time, David Weekly powered his way into the endzone for one of his two scores on the afternoon.
'We've got some good wide receivers that make things happen, so that wasn't surprising that he was able to make some big completions on those drives,' Ray said. 'Riley's had a, statistically, very good year for us. He's thrown for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns.'
The score was 28-21 with the majority of the second half to play, but the Blue Hawks began to bully the Little Green on both sides of the ball. The put together two methodical second half drives, which kept the clock moving and the ball out of Cote's hands.
When the Little Green got the ball back toward the end of the third and into the fourth quarter, Exeter's defense began making stops.
'The offense had plenty of opportunities to keep the chains moving and try to keep the ball away from them,' Ray said. 'To Exeter's credit, they shut us down pretty well.'
Cote ended the game 19 of 32 passing for 183 yards and a touchdown, but his receivers dropped several catchable passes. Weekly filled up the stat sheet with 110 rushing yards to flank his two scores. Hector Velez also contributed with 49 rushing and 13 receiving yards. Troy Pelletier was Cote's top receiver with nine catches for 84 yard.
'We're a team - offense, defense, special teams - win together, lose together, and today we didn't do a good enough job to get the W,' Ray said.
Central's season isn't quite finished. The Little Green are slated to play Trinity on Thanksgiving to finish the season.
Ray said the seniors, who have been an integral part of the team's winning record, will be greatly missed next fall.
'We've had a lot of seniors work real hard to become good football players, and that's certainly a credit to them,' said Ray. 'Without our senior class, we wouldn't have been in the playoffs, we wouldn't have a winning record and we wouldn't be heading into another Thanksgiving Day game against Trinity.'