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Bobcats weather storm to hold off Kearsarge

by Matt Perloff
Contributing Writer

Plymouth's Derek Preble runs the ball during the first quarter of Saturday's 21-7 win over Kearsarge. Matt Perloff. (click for larger version)
October 20, 2014
PLYMOUTH — Bad weather may have delayed Plymouth Regional High School football action last weekend, but the outcome justified the wait for the hosts.

The Bobcats waited out an hour-long rain delay before battling Kearsarge for their second win of the season, pulling away late for a 21-7 over the Cougars Saturday afternoon at Zoulias Field.

Thunder and lightning drove Plymouth (2-4) and Kearsarge (3-3) to the locker rooms late in the first quarter, but the teams returned after the skies cleared and fought a close battle down to the end. A bad snap by Kearsarge near the end zone late in the fourth quarter finally gave the Bobcats the late advantage, as they hung on to earn their second straight win at home.

Neither team scored on their first possessions, though Plymouth didn't have to wait too much longer to get on the board. The Bobcats' second drive started slow, but Justin Robinson hit Jim Wieliczko with a 29-yard pass to bring the ball deep into Kearsarge territory, then Robinson and Nolan Farina took handoffs from Derek Preble before Preble ran the ball himself to bring the ball inside the 10 yard line. Robinson would finish off the drive two plays later, evading a lone tackle in the backfield before jogging uncontested into the endzone for the touchdown. Connor Nolan came in to deliver the extra point, giving Plymouth a 7-0 lead with 4:23 left in the first.

Kearsarge's offense showed its first sparks on the next possession. Ryan Antle gave the Cougars their biggest gains on the afternoon, the 6'1", 220-pound tailback pushing his way through the Bobcat defense for nearly 30 yards on the drive, though Plymouth shut down other ball carriers, including stops by Quinn Orr and Tom Hamel to slow Kearsarge's progression.

They had the ball down to the Bobcat 26 on third and inches when thunder rumbled overhead, halting play with 1:17 left in the first quarter; when play resumed, Jason Murray stopped Antle for a loss to force fourth down, and Robinson led the tackle on the conversion attempt, downing the Cougars a yard short to turn the ball over to Plymouth.

The Bobcats threatened to score on each of their possessions in the second quarter, bringing the ball well into Kearsarge territory each time. Robinson ran the ball on all six plays of the first possession, including a 29-yard burst through the middle of the Cougar defense to bring the ball down to the Kearsarge 26, but he'd fumble the ball on the next attempt, which the defense recovered to end the threat. The Bobcats' next drive featured five different ball carriers, with Robinson leading the charge with Farina, Chris Comeau, Aaron Evans and Armani Mwingira. They'd get the ball down to the Kearsarge 19 yard line before facing fourth down and opted to kick a field goal, but Nolan's attempt was deflected, falling short of the goal posts to end the drive.

Though the Bobcats couldn't pull away, the defense kept them ahead through the half. Kearsarge managed a few short gains before being forced to punt during their first possession of the second quarter, and while they were more formidable on their last bid before the break, Plymouth slowed their advance with key stops by Chad Merrill and Orr, eventually running out the clock well away from the end zone to head into halftime still up 7-0.

Kearsarge opened the second half with possession, but again fell short against the Bobcat defense, with stops by Hamel and Garrett Macomber ultimately forcing the Cougars to punt. Plymouth's first possession also got off to a promising start with a 17-yard run by Robinson, but he was picked off two plays later as a Kearsarge player leaped to snag his line-drive pass. A face mask penalty further added to the blow as the Cougars set up at the Plymouth 19 yard line, and they'd cross into the end zone three plays later on a seven-yard run by Elliott Lukatis. Kearsarge would add on an extra point kick, tying the game 7-7 midway through the third quarter.

Plymouth nearly lost the ball again when they fumbled on the first play of their next possession, but Nate Comeau recovered the ball to save the drive, and the Bobcats took full advantage of the second chance. Back-to-back penalties set them back to first down and 20 early in the attack, but Robinson erased 17 of those yards on the next two plays, then survived a fourth down conversion with an 18-yard keeper to reach the Kearsarge red zone. Chris Comeau nearly finished off the drive with a 13-yard gain, though Plymouth only had to wait one more play as Robinson crossed the goal line from four yards out, couple with another extra point kick from Nolan to make it 14-7 with just over a minute left in the third.

Kearsarge tried to keep up the momentum of its last drive, including a 25-yard pass to breach Plymouth territory and another 13-yard gain on the ground to reach the Bobcat 26. A holding penalty slowed their advance though, and after back-to-back stops by Macomber to keep them behind the line of scrimmage, Kearsarge attempted to throw on third down, only to have the pass swatted away by Wieliczko. The Cougars nearly saved the drive with a fourth down pass, but couldn't control the ball on the reception as it bounced away for the incompletion and turnover on downs.

Plymouth threatened again after Chris Comeau opened the drive with a 30-yard run, but another fumble allowed Kearsarge to take control at their own 15 yard line. A pair of big passes brought the ball back to Bobcat territory, then they'd turn to their running game to keep whittling down the distance, ultimately finding themselves on the Plymouth five yard line on third down and a yard to go. Just when it looked like a tie game was imminent though, the third down snap sailed over the quarterback's head, bounding into the backfield as both teams took after the stray ball. Though the quarterback was able to recover the ball, he had Macomber right on top of him, forcing him to down the ball for a 19-yard loss and fourth down with 20 yards to go. The Cougars tried to salvage the drive with a pass, but Sam Slaughter was the only one to get a hand on it, letting it fall incomplete for the turnover on downs.

Plymouth's offense took the field with under five minutes to go, but they'd face a few challenges trying to run out the clock. A penalty against Kearsarge nixed a potential fourth down deep in Bobcat territory, but the Bobcats faced it again three plays later, getting stopped just inches short. Plymouth only needed a first down to earn enough time to run out the clock, but Robinson found an even bigger opening after the handoff, breaking through the Kearsarge defense and taking off on a 49-yard touchdown run down the sideline. Nolan came in to add the extra point, all but sealing the deal as Plymouth led 21-7 with just over a minute left. The Cougars persevered to the end, but the Bobcat defense kept them in bounds to keep the clock running, eventually finishing off the win.

Robinson finished the afternoon with nearly 250 yards on 32 carries, running in all three touchdowns on the afternoon. Chris Comeau added 55 yards on six carries, while Nolan Farina added 15 on two attempts in the first half. Mwingira, Evans, Slaughter and John Morse also added yards for the Bobcats. Plymouth's defense turned in another solid afternoon, getting several tackles from Orr, Macomber, Murray and Merrill, as well as key hits from Wieliczo, Robinson, Evans and Hamel.

The Bobcats are on the road again this Friday, taking on Merrimack Valley at 6:30 p.m. in Penacook. They will play their regular season finale at home the following Saturday, Nov. 1, when they host Hanover at 1:30 p.m.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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