By Hector Longo firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DERRY — The distance between Number 2 and Number 3 in New Hampshire high school football has widened significantly.
Now, we get the opportunity to see if Number 2 has made up any ground on Number 1.
Defending champ and top-seeded Exeter will host No. 2 Pinkerton Academy in a state title rematch at noon Saturday on the Seacoast.
“This one’s all about vengeance,” said Pinkerton junior Manny Latimore, whose club got knocked around by Exeter, 24-20, back in Week 2 in September.
Second-seeded Pinkerton, behind five touchdowns from “Magnificent Manny,” plowed over No. 3 Nashua South, 42-3, Saturday in semi-final action to earn another shot at the Blue Hawks.
Systematically and monotonously ripped to bits by the Astros, it was a slow South death last week, when the two teams met to close out the regular season.
“It wasn’t exactly pretty,” Astros coach Brian O’Reilly said. “We had a couple 16- or 18-play scoring drives that had a lot of three- and four-yard runs in them.”
This time, killing was nearly instant.
South sold out, moving eight or nine players in the box to attempt to squelch the Astros’ running game.
The result was a handful of “no gains” and “negative-2s.” But when South made a mistake, there wasn’t much at the second level, and Latimore made the Panthers pay.
The junior broke scoring runs of 54 –— on the fourth snap of the game — 65, 22 and 24 in a 17-carry, 203-yard afternoon.
“That’s what you have to do when they have so many guys up tight,” said Latimore, who also pulled in a 24-yard Sean Conroy pass for a touchdown. “Once you get through the line, it has to hurt them.”
Up 14-0 after one, the margin expanded to 35-3 at the half, and when Latimore carried a couple Panthers on his back for a 5-yard touchdown midway through the third, the starters sat and the clock was set to running time, prompting talk only about Exeter.
Remember, not only did Bill Ball’s club drop the Astros in September, they also shocked them here in the 2011 title game.
Nobody in Pinkerton Red has forgotten that one.
“I was so happy to hear they won today,” said Latimore, who has now run for 1,297 yards on 162 carries. “That game is one I wanted, and I think we all want so bad.”
Defensively, Pinkerton simply overwhelmed South, forcing a pair of fumbles and allowing only 181 yards on 57 offensive snaps.
Andrew Ong, Camden Crowell, Jacob Whorf and Phil Harper were among the big-play Astros, playing without their bell-ringing leader Matt Madden, who was on crutches.
Freshman Kyle Cantalupo made all six PAT attempts and remains perfect on the year for the 10-1 Astros.