West falls in dramatic CHaD football game

DURHAM – Thanks to the efforts of a bunch of recently-graduated football standouts from Nashua-area high schools, the West squad hung tough before falling in a 17-13 decision to the East contingent in the 2019 CHaD East-West New Hampshire High School All-Star Game at the University of New Hampshire on Saturday night.

The two talented teams soldiered on through steamy weather en route to the final score, with former grid stars from Nashua South, Nashua North, Merrimack, Hollis Brookline, Milford, and Souhegan playing on the defending champion West side and a pair of former Alvirne Broncos working hard for the victorious East crew.

Ex-Merrimack High Tomahawks Ben Eichman and Tristan Wood came up particularly big among the locals. Eichman received a 31-yard touchdown pass from Concord’s Zach Miles in the final minute of the third quarter.

That gave the West crew a slim lead, 13-10.

And that wasn’t all.

A year after his brother Joe helped lead the West to victory, he skilled local gridder did in this big game in making himself a contender for Most Valuable Player honors. And Wood gobbled up no less than two East turnovers, bagging an interception and a fumble recovery. But the West bunch still fell.

The annual contest serves as a major fundraiser for Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock, and it brings together 80 of the Granite State’s most talented senior standouts.

Local schools with athletes playing on the 2019 West team included Nashua North’s Garrett Hillard, Harley Ciardi, Josh McElligott, Brian Montminy, and Austin Ouellette, and South’s J.J. Arnesen and Jaylan Pacheco. Merrimack’s gridders on the West squad include Eichman, Jordan Petrocelli, Adam Thornton, and Wood. Other local West teamers included Alex Taylor from Milford, Mike Gillespie from Hollis Brookline, and Ries Grondstra from Souhegan. That squad was coached by Concord High head man Eric Brown.

The East contingent, led into the 2019 fray by Londonderry High head football guy Jimmy Lauzon, included locals James Bertrand and John Porter from Alvirne.

West notched the first points of the night early after the East crew fumbled the ball over on its third play from scrimmage.The defending champs needed 10 plays to roll 44 yards – with Merrimack’s Eichman contributing two receptions and a run for a total of 30 of the yards – on a 2-yard scoring dive by Ryan Toscano from Bedford.

East used a 25-yard field goal from Salem’s Zach Gibbons with 4:30 left in the opening quarter to make it a 7-3 game. But that was it on the scoring for period one.

And the East side snagged its first lead of the night six minutes into the second stanza when Londonderry’s Evan Cormier hit a wide-open Joe MacDougall of Winnacunnet in the end zone with a 9-yard scoring toss.

The East contingent had the better of the play overall in that second period, but 10-7 was where the score remained when halftime rolled around after Merrimack’s Wood spoiled a late East scoring try by intercepting a pass deep in his team’s territory.

And the score didn’t change until a mere 57 seconds remained in the third quarter when Concord’s Zach Miles hit Eichman in the end zone from 31 yards out.

But East reclaimed the upper hand with 10;59 to go in the final period when Pinkerton Academy’s Genarro Marra squeezed the ball into the end zone from three yards out, and the point-after boot made it a 17-13 contest.

Eichman then came to the fore once again on the ensuing kickoff and got his team’s offense set up at midfield with an impressive return. But West’s offense couldn’t notch more points.

Eichman’s former Merrimack teammate Wood gained more notice when he scooped up a big fumble recovery with 7:50 to go as West battled to come back from its slim deficit. But again the East defense put up the big stop sign.

The West offense was threatening to reclaim the lead with just under three minutes to go and the ball at the East 18, but a fumble was run back deep into West territory by Pinkerton’s Nick Lombard. And time and the situation were both staunchly against West.

The CHaD games were begun in 2012, with the West winning the first three games, East answering by tallying victories in the 2015 and 2016 battles, and West taking the upper hand again in 2017 and 2018. Last year’s game – won by the West contingent by a slim 24-20 count – was considered by some to have been the best game in the CHaD series thus far. But this year’s game had plenty going for it as well.