Alvirne rallies to reach Division II football finals
PORTSMOUTH – Needing 53 yards in 62 seconds with no timeouts left and a trip to the Division II state championship game hanging in the balance, the Alvirne High School offense made the unthinkable look easy.
And why not? These crazed, cardiac kids from Hudson just don’t flinch, even in the most dire
Sophomore quarterback Kyle Gora and the offense raced through St. Thomas of Dover, marching the needed distance in five plays to stun the second-seeded Saints, 22-19, in Saturday’s state semis.
Alvirne, which hadn’t ever won a football playoff game before last weekend, will now play for the title Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m.) vs. No. 1 Plymouth at UNH’s Wildcat Stadium.
“We didn’t move the ball all game long. I think we had the ball for all of two minutes in the second half … until it counted,” said Alvirne coach Tarek Rothe. “We just know how to answer in that moment. We just beat a very good football team. I’m just excited we get a chance to go play at UNH next week.”
They will be talking about the defensive stand, with Gora, Thomas Keegan and the defense, finding a way to get the Saints off the field and force a late, trailing 19-16.
And the game-winning drive will forever be etched in Broncos’ history.
On first down, Gora hit a leaping Morgan Williams for 35 yards on a streak down the left sideline.
“He wasn’t throwing the ball very accurately all day, but when we needed a throw, he made it happen,” said Rothe. “He has a short memory. He just said this is the time was have to go.”
The window was tight, but Williams, at 6-foot-4, wasn’t about to let that one get away.
“I came in motion, and I think that’s how I got free,” the junior said. “I had no clue he was throwing to me. Great, great throw and I just made a play.
After a spike to kill the clock, Gora swept left for 9 more to the Saints’ 8. He should have been tackled in bounds back around the 15, but the nationally-ranked wrestler stayed off the mat (turf) and escaped to the sidelines at the 8.
A sneak netted the first down at the 6, and after an incompletion, Gora took the direct snap and plowed in off left tackle for the score.
“I was surprised we got the ball back (but when we did) I wasn’t surprised we could score,” said Gora. “You can’t count us out. We’ve come back in so many games. It’s just what we do.”
The drive left St. Thomas 23.9 seconds, it was too efficient.
And with a courageous Shawn DeKorne getting one final opportunity, it went right to the wire.
DeKorne moved the Saints to the 37 of Alvirne and in a whipping wind hurled a “Hail Mary” attempt.
But Williams and Grady Hudson ended things, swatting it to turf.
It was fitting for the Alvirne defense to have the final word.
The effort on that side of the ball was championship level, considering the opponent on the other side, with DeKorne leading Division II’s most prolific passing attack.
He threw for 301 yards on the day, hitting 25 of 44 passes, but he paid a physical price as Keegan, Adam Tice, Gregg Ellis, Alex Giuffrida and Gora all had heavy hits on him.
“We knew we had to put him under pressure,” said Gora. “We felt if we could get our guys on him, we could win this game.”
The Broncos survived a blocked punt deep in their own end early in the second quarter and made an immense stand at their own 8 as the first half ran out. They trailed, but it was only 6-0 Saints, and it might have been much worse.
On Alvirne’s first possession of the third quarter Gora hit Williams (3 catches, 59 yards) for 20, setting up an 18-yard TD run from Jamie Bertrand. Gora’s sneak for two points made it 8-6 Broncos.
Hudson made what looked to be the play of the game on the first play of the fourth.
St. Thomas, at its own 39, ran a receiver out to the left in motion where no Broncos were. DeKorne saw it and lofted a ball to the sideline.
Like a lightning bolt, Hudson sprinted from the middle of the field, at least 25 yards, maybe 30, and beat the receiver to the football for the pick.
He tiptoed on the sideline all the way to the 14. And in a blink, it was a two-score game.
Gora road the bulldozing offensive line surge in for the score on a 14-yard sneak, and Alex Giuffrida scooted around left end for the conversion, making it 16-6.
But DeKorne (25 of 44, 301 yards) is a veteran and a darn good one.
Battered, he tossed a 10-yard TD pass to Hunter Lessard and then gave his club the lead with a 1-yard sneak with 6:04 left, setting up the miracle finish.
“We had heart,” said Rothe. “We went to a man defense (in the second half) and we were able to slow them down a little bit. We got pressure with our front four and we made some plays. We just made enough plays to win.”
Alvirne was outgained 336-196, and Gora was shackled much of the night, hitting just 6 of 17 throws for 101 and rushing 21 times for 30 more.
But with a trip to the finals on the line? He and the Broncos were money. And in this November chiller, that’s all that really mattered.