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NHIAA D-III Football Championship: Cougars finish the job

Chief Sports Editor

November 18. 2017 8:06PM
Campbell's players from left, Logan Decarolis, Cameron Barrett and Devin Ventura, celebrate as they win over Monadnock during NHIAA Division III Football Finals held at UNH in Durham on Saturday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM - The Campbell of Litchfield football team blew out eight teams during the regular season, then two more in the first two rounds of the Division III playoffs.

But in Saturday's state championship game, the Cougars proved they could win a close one, too.

Down 8-6 in the fourth quarter after three straight three-and-outs, Campbell changed things up a bit and drove 68 yards for the deciding touchdown, a 33-yard run by sophomore Keegan Mills with 6:39 remaining, and pulled out a 12-8 victory over Monadnock of Swanzey at Wildcat Stadium.

Monadnock drove to the Campbell 18 in the final minute, but the drive stalled there, giving Campbell its second state title in four years. The Cougars finished 11-0.

Mills, the co-feature back in the Campbell offense with Ryan Yanuszewski, personally accounted for four of his team's seven first downs on the final drive as the Cougars switched from their normal single-wing offense to the spread. He passed to Carter Vedrani for 19 yards, then rushed for 13 and 11 yards before the winning dash over the left side.

"The line did a great job, and Carter made a great block at the end, and all I had to do is beat the safety and keep going," said Mills, who also scored Campbell's first TD, in the second quarter.

The victory was a stark contrast to every one of Campbell's previous games. The Cougars entered Saturday averaging 52 points per game and its closest margin of victory was 47-14, over Somersworth. Campbell won its first two playoff games by 31 and 33 points.

Yet, there seemed to be no panic along the sideline as Monadnock maintained its two-point lead.

"We were hoping to be in it in the fourth quarter," said Campbell coach Greg Gush. "That was our goal. If we're in this game in the fourth, we think we can take care of business.

"We have many more bodies (than Monadnock) and we play a lot of kids. We just thought we could wear them down. That was part of it. And when we switched (to the spread), it was harder for them to defend."

Mills, who finished with 76 yards rushing (and a game-leading 18 tackles), scored the game's first TD after Campbell took advantage of a short field. After Mills' fumble recovery - of his own pass intercepted by Tim Santaw, who then fumbled - the Cougars went 34 yards in seven plays. After three attempts to punch it in from the 2, Mills rolled in from the 1. His conversion rush failed, and the Cougars led 6-0 with 9:07 left in the second quarter.

Monadnock, which finished 10-1, responded immediately. The most impressive drive of the day covered 65 yards in 14 plays, with halfback Chandler Matson (28 carries, 125 yards) doing the bulk of the damage, and fellow junior Tim Hart taking it in from the 6. Matson bulled in for the conversion to make it 8-6 with 2:52 left in the half.

The teams traded three punts apiece in the second half before the deciding drive. The fact the Cougars were in a battle for the first time all season was expected, based on scouting reports and game film, said Gush. After all, Monadnock entered the game unbeaten as well.

"There wasn't any reason for them (the Cougars) to doubt we would be in a dogfight," said Gush. "This was exactly how we expected the game to go. Therefore, there was no panic."

"Our goal was get to the fourth quarter, keep it close and we'll finish it in the fourth quarter," said Mills. "And that's what we did."

NHIAA Litchfield East Swanzey Swanzey