DOUBLE DOWNER, PART 1: North stunned by Bedford, 7-0
NASHUA — Bedford coach Zach Matthews said when the Division I playoffs began, he didn’t care where the Bulldogs were seeded.
Friday night, the Nashua High School North football team found out why the hard way.
The 10th ranked Bulldogs left Stellos Stadium with a stunning 7-0 rain-soaked quarterfinal win, handing the No. 2 Titans their only loss at the worst possible moment: elimination time.
“They beat us up in the trenches,” North coach Chad Zibolis said. “I give them credit. They just beat us up. We couldn’t run the ball (just 61 yards). … They played some really freakin’ good ‘D’.”
In fact, the Bulldogs notched their sixth shutout of the season, and have not allowed a point in eight quarters of playoff football.
“I wasn’t worried about what our seed was going into the playoffs,” Matthews said, his team now 8-3. “We could play a lot of kids, we could develop our team. I really didn’t care what our seed was as long as we were in the tournament. When you look at it, everybody has to do the same thing, you have to win a certain amount of games.
“For us, I think we developed throughout the season, our defense has gotten even better. When our backs were against the wall, our kids were up to the challenge tonight and that’s what it’s all about.”
It didn’t help the Titans (9-1) that they lost quarterback Derek Finlay, basically their offense’s heart and soul, to a knee injury with 2:01 left in the first quarter. Gamer that he is, Finlay (80 yards passing, 17 rushing) came back to start the second half, needed to come out, went back in, but again could not run, eventually even fumbled the ball away, and finally Zibolis said “That kid will do anything to win a football game, and we had to take his helmet away.”
“Oh man, it was tough to see,” North back/linebacker Jack Peters said. “He’s been battling through injuries all season, he’d be back the next series. But he wasn’t. It definitely took a toll on us.
At halftime we tried to recuperate, and came out flying, but Bedford held their ground. … Oh man, they were tough.
“They’re not the same team they were the beginning of the season, I’ll tell you that.”
No, that team lost to the Titans 19-7 here on Opening Night, just over two months ago. But that North team also had defensive mainstay Toby Brown, Jr., wrecking havoc in the Bedford backfield and also scoring a defensive TD. But Brown last night was in street clothes, still nursing a knee injury, and the Bulldogs were able to run the ball just enough, a total of 99 yards led by Logan Sfeir’ 83 yards on 19 carries, and control time of possession.
Their lone score came on a 55-yard TD pass from Daniel Black to Colby Snow with 5:29 left in the first quarter. Snow was wide open, completely alone down the middle of the field, and as he said, “all I saw was grass (Motta Field’s field turf). The PAT was good and Bedford’s 7-0 lead amazingly held up the rest of the night.
“He beat us on a post,” Zibolis said. “Just miscommunication back there. He was wide open.”
North had three opportunities when it looked like maybe, possibly, could be in terms of getting on the board. First, kicker Dionard Toplana left 46-yard field goal attempt wide left and short with 1:07 left.
But the Titans’ best chance came when junior backup QB Gavin Flynn started to get a rhythm with receiver Nick DiGesse , hitting him on a fourth-and-8 at the Bedford 23 for an 18 yard gain with just over 10 minutes to play, putting the ball on the Bulldog 5.
But facing fourth-and-goal at the 2, Flynn was intercepted by Bedford’s Evan Cibotti in the end zone, killing the threat. He finished the night completing 4 of 10 for 44 yards and two interceptions.
“It’s a great read by Gavin Flynn,” Zibolis said, “but he just didn’t get there fast enough. Just a little more of a line drive than a float. That’s reps in practice. … He did a helluva job for going in there. He really did.
“We just couldn’t punch it in. They’re that stout on defense.”
“At that point it’s all character and heart,” Matthews said. “This group of kids all year, they stepped up when we needed them to.”
And Matthews needed them to one last time, because the Titans, taking over at their 40 with 2:40 to go, Flynn completed four passes to get to the Bedford 29. But with just under two to play, he got picked off again by Bedford’s Dom Tagliaferro, and the ‘Dogs ran out the clock. Now they’ll play the winner of today’s game between No. 6 Timberlane and No. 3 Exeter in next week’s semis.
For the Titans, it’s a stunning abrupt and bitter end to the postseason after going through the regular season unscathed. Some players were still in uniform on the field, staring into the night as the rain fell, as long as 20 minutes after the game.
“I’m proud of the kids, they worked hard during the week, we just didn’t come out on top,” he said. “The disappointment is going to happen no matter what, but when you have 17 seniors, that just puts it that much higher. Those kids are realizing right now that could have been their last football game.”