Pacheco, Panthers run wild over North, 52-26

Staff photo by TOM KING The Nashua South football team hoists the Ed Lecius Memorial Trophy after its 52-26 over Nashua North at frozen Stellos Stadium on Wednesday night.

NASHUA – The way they finished, the Nashua High School South football team and Jaylan Pacheco must have wondered what might have been.

The senior Pacheco ran for 203 yards and five touchdowns as the Panthers, who were down 26-16 in the second quarter, romped past rival Nashua North in the annual Turkey Eve Bowl in front of only a few hundred frozen fans at Stellos Stadium on Wednesday night.

“I wanted to play the best I could for my team,” Pacheco said. “I couldn’t let everybody down. … I was just happy with the team performed, and I’m happy we got the win.”

It was South’s third straight Turkey Eve Bowl win as they finished the year at 5-5, scoring a whopping 129 points in their final two games. The Panthers now lead the holiday series 11-4 and the overall series 20-11. Also, the game set the combined scoring mark for the holiday game with 78 points, after two straight years of the teams combining for 76 points.

And a confident Pacheco had a lot to do with it.

“He’s played like that all year long,” Nashua South coach Scott Knight said. “He had a shoulder issue about midway through the season, and a big scare because he had a torn labrum, an MRI, had to sit out a game or two. That kind of took a little wind out of his sails.

“But he finally got the MRI results last week and it was clean, so he was playing with a lot more confidence today like he wasn’t broken.”

And the Panthers had great confidence even though they gave up four big plays, including a 72-yard Curtis Harris to Austin Ouellette TD pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

And even though they were down 26-16 after the third of three Ouellette TDs, a 38-yard run with 6:27 left in the first half.

But that was the last time the Titans, who finished at 7-4, would get a sniff of the end zone. The Panther defense held North to just 17 total yards in the second half. Harris finished with just 76 yards on nine carries.

“Other than the big play, we didn’t establish too many drives,” North coach Dante Laurendi said. “We had some stops and some turnovers, but we didn’t capitalize when we had the opportunity. Once we couldn’t hit the big play, it was tough to recover.”

“We settled down in the second half,” Knight said. “The thing is, we were working against our scout team for three-and-a-half weeks. The speed of the game, at what you’re looking at – we’re looking at the same stuff – but the speed is different. You have to change your game speed a little bit. Once we did that, we were OK.”

Down 6-0, South answered with Pacheco’s first TD, a 1-yard run, and Jason Compoh ran in a two-point conversion to give the Panthers an 8-6 lead just over three minutes in.

The scoring spree for both then began. North standout Harris cut inside and up the field for a 63-yard TD on the Titans’ next play from scrimmage, and it was 14-8 North after a Brian Montminy two-point run. Yes, two plays, two scores.

Pacheco’s next score, a 2-yard run plus a Kyle O’Connor two-pint catch, gave South a 16-14 lead with 44 seconds left in the opening quarter. But the Panthers had about 10 seconds to enjoy it because Ouellette returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to paydirt and just like that it was 20-16.

Ouellette added his third scoring run but it was all Purple after that. Despite its running success, South went to the air as quarterback Dante Young hit three straight passes for a total of 51 yards, the third a 15-yard TD to Jason Compoh with five minutes left in the first half. Compoh’s two-point run closed the gap to 26-24.

The game changed when Harris underthrew a receiver and South’s Jake McDevitt was there to pick it off at midfield late in the period. A Young 37-yard pass to sophomore Chris Keefe set up a 5-yard Pacheco TD run, and it was 32-26 Panthers at the half.

Things slowed down after that, mainly because of the J.J. Arnesen-led South defense. And, midway through the third quarter, the Panthers put together an eight play, 92-yard drive with Young running it in from 10 yards out.

They took that 38-26 lead into the final quarter.

“The key was that 92 yard drive in the third quarter,” Knight said. “That took a lot of clock.”

“We didn’t tackle well,” Laurendi said. “We put our defense in some bad spots. … And they capitalized. They moved the ball very well.”

Especially on the ground to the tune of 347 yards.

“That was a big part of our game plan,” Pacheco said. “I was happy that the run game worked the way it did. I have to send a big thank you to my linemen, they were working their butt off. They were giving me holes after every play to help me get through even after I was banged up.”

And the Panthers didn’t even feel the chill as the temperatures began to plunge. Pacheco added an 18-yard TD with 5:41 left and Keefe a 55-yard run with just over two minutes to play.

“It was a lot of fun,” Knight said. “I thought the seniors really stepped it up.”

Especially one named Pacheco.