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Bedford’s Dylan York avoids a tackle early in the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ championship Division II game against Winniccunet High School. (Mike Galinat Photo)

Shot at championship slips through Bedford’s hands in final minutes

HAMPTON - For the second week in a row, the Bedford Bulldogs needed to make a play in the clutch. This time, the final seconds would decide the Division II state championship on Saturday, Nov. 17.

Unlike a week earlier, the Bulldogs could not come away with a victory. With less than two minutes left and a chance to tie the game, Bedford couldn't drive past top-seeded Winnacunnet's defense.

With time winding down, quarterback James Caparell fumbled after getting hit and Winnacunnet recovered. The Warriors only needed to take a knee to seal the 21-13 win.

'Both teams played a great game, Winnacunnet just came out on top,' Bedford head coach Kurt Hines said. 'They were the team that had fewer mistakes.'

Winnacunnet received the opening kickoff and scored on its first drive. After Bedford answered with a score on its own initial possession, the game looked to be shaping into a shootout, but the defenses settled down.

Neither team would score until Winnacunnet broke the 7-7 tie early in the second half. Later in the third quarter, Caparell took a quarterback sneak from his own 2-yard-line all the way down field, just shy of the Winnacunnet goal line.

The Bulldogs punched the ball into the endzone and needed only an extra point to tie, but they couldn't convert and trailed 14-13.

As the fourth quarter was winding down, Hines told his team to let the Warriors score, rather than let them waste the clock. The Bulldogs got the ball back with just over a minute to play, but were shut down offensively, resulting in the Caparell fumble.

'They just covered our receivers really well,' Hines said. 'We couldn't move the ball.'

Winnacunnet was the only team to beat Bedford during the regular season. The Warriors won that similar, low-scoring affair on Sept. 7, 13-6.

Although they couldn't come away with the win, Hines said he was proud of his players' poise and effort. In their first year competing at Division II, he said they surprised a lot of doubters by even making the championship game in the first place.

'I couldn't be more proud of our guys and how they finished the season,' said Hines. 'I don't think anyone expected us to go into Division II this year and make much noise at all, and to be able to show up our first year and make it to the state championship says a lot about all our young men and coaches.'

Hines loses a strong senior class with the conclusion of the season. Besides their contributions to the team's success on the field, he said they set a positive example of sportsmanship for the rest of the squad.

'From the first year they came here four years ago as freshmen, and I said this to our team afterwards when we got back to the school in the weight room, we haven't a single issue with any of them as far as off-the-field problems or anything concerning that,' Hines said. 'They're just dedicated, hard-working kids that have built something pretty amazing here. They've created something that really set the bar for the underclassmen for them to live up to.'

The team lost just one game in the regular season before entering the playoffs as the two-seed. The Bulldogs beat Keene in the first round of the playoffs, 20-15, with a last second drive a week earlier.

'It was one of those games that, as much as it wasn't the outcome we desired, I couldn't be more proud of our guys for the fact that they played, as they had all year, to the final whistle,' Hines said.

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