The 17-year series between regional football heavyweights Pinkerton (N.H.) Academy and Brockton (Mass.) High ended the way it started in 1996.
Pinkerton celebrated a six-point road win.
The 10-time NHIAA Division I champion from Derry forced five turnovers and left Marciano Stadium on Oct. 12 with a 20-14 triumph. The Astros snapped a five-game losing streak in the series, and earned a share of New Hampshire's No. 1 ranking as a result.
If the Boxers feel they lost the finale more than their opponents won it, that has been Pinkerton's belief the past four years. Turnovers – often at critical times – haunted the Astros.
It still burns Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly that his 2008 team lost, 28-27. Those Astros coughed up a 27-7 lead, thanks largely to problems protecting the football.
“This game was more like the last four years,” O'Reilly said of the 2012 contest's up-for-grabs nature. “Only this time, we were able to make plays in the fourth quarter.”
Brockton dominated the series, finishing with a 12-5 record. Those 12 wins were by a 15.8-point margin. The Boxers created separation with a 9-1 mark from 2002-11.
Before Brockton's run, the series was knotted at 3-3. The '96 Astros, led by junior Mac Gassman, stunned the Peter Harris-led Boxers, 26-20, in the inaugural meeting.
O'Reilly's current players were aware the series was ending. NHIAA football will undergo significant realignment for the 2013 season. The changes include adding an extra round of playoffs, which leaves the Astros without an open date to conduct business with the Boxers.
“(The players) were told, 'This is a playoff game. We're going to Brockton and this is playoff intensity. Anybody that can walk is playing. We’re not just going down there to go through the motions,'” O'Reilly said. “You have to (make that clear) with kids every now and then in football.”
Captain Matt St. Onge best illustrates how badly the Astros wanted to finish strong. A leg injury sidelined the senior during practice in the days leading up to kick-off.
St. Onge played one snap on offense before the coaches decided to find another alternative at fullback. St. Onge, however, did not miss a play at linebacker. He and junior Matt Madden (interception, six solo tackles) were instrumental in the outcome.
“Our linebackers, I can't speak enough about them,” O'Reilly said. “Matt St. Onge essentially played on one leg.”
Normally a halfback, junior Manny Latimore moved to St. Onge's position on offense. Latimore rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
St. Onge's twin brother, Chris, averaged 4 yards per carry (11 rushes, 44 yards). Senior quarterback Sean Conroy tossed a 33-yard scoring strike to James Toohey.
Ryan Day's 1-yard run shortly before halftime snapped a 14-14 tie. O'Reilly lauded assistant coaches Bryon Murphy and Mike Gooden for making adjustments to the defense's coverage scheme that helped the Astros pitch a second-half shutout.
O'Reilly admitted feeling a sense of satisfaction over winning the finale. But he quickly placed the win in perspective.
“Even though it was a playoff atmosphere,” he said, “it wasn't a championship.”
Milford senior Morgan Andrews, the reigning Gatorade National Girls' Soccer Player of the Year, scored her 100th career goal on Oct. 5. The milestone marker was one of her five goals that fueled Division II Milford's 8-0 win over Manchester West.
Andrews – a member of the U.S. Under-17 team that recently competed for the Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan – also kicks field goals and extra points for the Division III football team.
Hours after hitting the century mark in soccer, she drilled the game-winning 33-yard field goal that lifted the Spartans past Division I Nashua North, 24-21.
“I am actually home for the rest of (the NHIAA) season,” said Andrews, who missed high school games to play international soccer. “After the World Cup, we're allowed a bit of a break.”
Exeter defeated Concord, 3-0, in Division I field hockey on Oct. 10. The decision earned head coach Deb Grott her 100th career win.
Erin McKenna threaded a pass that led to Kelly Poncelet's first-half goal, the game-winner. Lexi Grott doubled the lead before halftime, and assisted on McKenna's late-game goal.
“What has been great about this achievement is the incredible group of girls I've had over the years who have all been a part of this run,” said Deb Grott, Exeter's leader since 2003. “I hope that the lessons they have learned on the playing field will serve them well outside of high school.”
Exeter has qualified for the Division I tournament in every year Deb Grott has guided the program. The 2006 team reached the state final, a game it lost to powerhouse Salem.
“I am extremely proud of all my teams and feel incredibly lucky to have had the coaches who have been next to me along the way,” she said.
RUNNING TO THE RECORD
Jesiah Wade set Division VI Campbell High's single-season rushing record on Oct. 13. He gained 274 yards (five TDs) on 19 carries, pushing his seven-game rushing total to 1,511 yards.
The junior's five touchdowns lifted his season total to 28 rushing TDs, also a program-record.
Wade entered the season's seventh week just 175 yards off the pace set by previous record-holder Dave Levesque (1,412 in 2003).
Perhaps most impressive is Wade has only played two full games to date. Campbell head coach Marc Prindiville pulled his quick-strike threat in five games because the team was in complete control.
“It's outstanding. I'm pretty sure he's leading the state – all six divisions – in touchdowns and rushing yards,” Prindiville said. “That's not even (including) his all-purpose yards.”
Marc Thaler is a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader. He co-hosts the “N.H. High School Football Show” on WGIR-AM 610 and WQSO-FM 96.7. Read his blog at NewHampshireGameDay.com and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.