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Sunday, June 30, 2013

All about the D for East, West

DURHAM – All-star games of any kind have become known for offense, but for Saturday’s CHaD New Hampshire East-West All-Star Football Game, it was the defensive players who shined brightest.

The East’s Rick Holt (Portsmouth) might have been the best – the defensive lineman was named the Bo Dickson Most Valuable Player – but it was the West’s defense that stole the game. ...

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DURHAM – All-star games of any kind have become known for offense, but for Saturday’s CHaD New Hampshire East-West All-Star Football Game, it was the defensive players who shined brightest.

The East’s Rick Holt (Portsmouth) might have been the best – the defensive lineman was named the Bo Dickson Most Valuable Player – but it was the West’s defense that stole the game.

The West unit bent, but didn’t break, and recovered two fumbles when the team needed it most in a 13-7 overtime victory.

“It was a heavyweight fight, and I’ll tell you what, that No. 71 (Holt), he’s a heavyweight,” West coach Jim Schubert said. “By far the best player on the field. But it was like a heavyweight fight and the undersized guys came out on top.”

Last year, in the first CHaD game, the teams combined for 56 points in the West’s 44-12 win. This time, the offenses were stymied, combining for 436 yards of offense and an average of 3.5 yards per play. The all-star quarterbacks completed just 45 percent of their passes, and the West’s James Caparell (Bedford) was the only one to complete more than one pass.

Both punters – West’s Tyler Ford (Souhegan) and Logan Laurent (Exeter) of the East – combined for more yardage than the offenses, piling up 498 yards in kicks. A lot of that came on Ford’s 74 yard bomb early in the second quarter that pinned the East inside its own 10.

“Coach (Schubert) said special teams are going to win the game, and when he made me the punter, it was all this pressure, and it motivated me,” Ford said. “On those punts, it just hit my foot, and I just let it go. They were nothing like they were at practice or before the game. Once the adrenaline is pumping, I hit it far.”

But as big as special teams were, it was the two fumbles recovered by the West defense that loomed largest.

The East seemed to have all the momentum after tying the game 7-7 on a 1-yard run by Ryan Monette (St. Thomas) with 10:48 left in the fourth quarter. A short punt by Ford later in the quarter set the East up at the West 38-yard line with 5:22 to play, but on third down, Tyler Grant (Exeter) fumbled after a hit by Bret Stagnone (Milford) and Deric Wagner (Nashua North) recovered for the West.

“Grant went up the middle and we were getting good penetration all game,” Wagner said. “He was forced to do something he didn’t want to do and lost track of the ball. I saw it pop out, and I hopped on it. It was a big momentum change.”

Although all the West got out of the fumble was a field goal attempt – block by Holt, of course – the turnover helped send the game to overtime. With the East facing a third-and-goal from the 1, the West defense came up big again. This time, it was Dylan Drew (Lebanon) making a big hit on Jamie Vogt (Exeter), forcing another fumble that was recovered by Ford, ending the East’s overtime possession.

“The defense was huge,” West’s Joe Albina (Milford) said. “We were all on the sidelines, even if we weren’t in the game, we were in on that play. The defense, they gave it up to the 1, and they punched it out.”

For most of the second half, it seemed like the East was doing all the punching. Just before halftime, East coach Bob Camirand had his offense running out of a straight-T formation, and in the second half, it began to wear down the West defense.

“It’s just such a quick offense,” West linebacker David Cannone (Bedford) said. “At the beginning, we handled it well, but then, we just started to get tired, and they started to run it down our throats and pound the ball on us. Our linebackers moved closer; our defensive line had to hit them lower. There was no real big adjustment; we just had to play more physical.”

That physical play started, oddly enough, after the West’s only turnover of the game. On the series following the East’s touchdown, quarterback Lucas Luopa (Keene) was intercepted by the East’s Dillon Crosby (Portsmouth). But on the next two plays, West’s Romeo Masuku sacked East quarterback Joe Lorenz (Windham) and the East was eventually forced to punt.

In fact, after the East’s 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive, the West defense allowed just 19 yards on nine plays.

“It was a defensive battle right down to the last play,” Cannone said. “I think we expected that coming in because they were running offenses where they’re trying to get three or four yards a pop and move down the field. Second half, we started getting tired and they were moving the ball against us more. We had to hold it together in the huddle. Guys were tired and had hands on knees. I think we had enough emotion it carried us through the game.”