By Dave Dyer
---- — CONCORD — Everything that could go wrong for Pinkerton did just that in a 42-14 Division 1 championship loss Saturday at Memorial Field to unbeaten Concord.
Costly fumbles, an interception, a blocked kick, penalties in key situations, tipped balls into the hands of an unintended receiver and an on-side kick that bounced high into the arms of a Concord linemen — it all happened to the Astros in what turned out to be a miserable game before an announced attendance of 5,684 fans.
The game started as if things would go Pinkerton’s way. The Astros kicked off, held Concord to negative-10 yards in three plays and then were the recipient of a shanked punt that went only 2 yards to the Crimson Tide’s 23 yard-line.
A 15-yard burst by Manny Latimore brought the ball down to the 8-yard-line, but Concord recovered a fumble on the next play and abruptly changed the momentum of the game, promptly driving 94 yards for its first of six touchdowns.
The key play on that first drive was a 46-yard pass from Rob Hall to ace receiver Seimou Smith (4 catches, 101 yards). Four plays later, shifty sophomore Leo Sudieh ran it in from 27 yards out for a 6-0 lead.
Pinkerton responded with its best drive of the game, of 64 yards, to take a 7-6 lead. A 12-yard pass from Jack Hanaway to Riley Cahill was pivotal on the drive, which sophomore T.J. Urbanik capped with a 5-yard run followed by a Kyle Cantalupo kick.
But the next two quarters were dominated by the Tide.
Concord drove 69 yards on its next possession only to be stopped by the Astros at the 11 yard-line. But three plays later, another recovered Pinkerton fumble led, two plays later, to a 5-yard scoring run by muscle man Walters Ndi (12 carries, 76 yards), making it 12-7.
A short punt on Pinkerton’s next series (which lost six yards) gave Concord the ball on the Astros’ 31 and, three plays later Ndi scored again, from 12 yards out.
Finally, after another 3-and-out by the Pinkerton offense, the Tide blocked a punt, leading to a beautiful 27-yard scoring strike on the next play, making it 28-7 at halftime.
“You can’t turn the ball over in a championship game and we had three bad turnovers — the two fumbles and the blocked punt, which was like a turnover,” Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly said. “That first fumble was like a two score swing. It might have been a little different if we had scored there.”
Things only got worse at the start of the third quarter when Ndi kicked a short bouncer that hopped high into the air and down into the arms of a Concord lineman at the Pinkerton 44. Eight plays later, after recovering from a 3rd-and-30, Hall found Marc Gaudet all alone for a 21-yard touchdown, making it 36-7.
If that wasn’t the final straw, an interception three plays later certainly was. It gave Concord the ball on the Pinkerton 29 and led, three plays later, to a 5-yard pass to Nick Comeau, making it 42-7 and, by NHIAA rules (35 points or more in the second half), led to a running clock.
The Astros did score a final touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Latimore scored from 12 yards out to cap a 68-yard drive.
On a positive note, Pinkerton’s defense pretty much contained Concord’s running game, with linebackers Jason Hansen, Matt Madden and Shawn Murray hitting hard and holding the Tide to 148 yards on the ground.
But the passing of Hall (8 of 12, 206 yards, three TDs) and the turnovers more than compensated for Concord, which completed its first-ever undefeated season at 12-0.