DURHAM — Londonderry quarterback Jake McEachern kept his helmet on, as around him teammates celebrated on the Wildcat Stadium turf Sunday night.
He didn’t want to take it off. He didn’t want the moment to end.
All season, the senior signal-caller has torn up opposing defenses as a deadly, dual-threat weapon out of the backfield.
The harsh weather hounding UNH’s campus took away his arm, but McEachern used his legs to rush for 107 yards and two touchdowns to help Londonderry beat Exeter, 21-10, in the Division 1 state championship last night. After a season of dominance, it seemed only fitting that the Lancers were the ones proudly hosting the state title trophy in triumph.
“We’ve been working for this for a really long time,” said an emotional McEachern. “This is such a dream come true. It means so much to all of us.”
The undefeated and top-ranked Lancers (12-0) were juggernauts all year. They outscored their opponents 531-122, averaged 44.3 points per game and never trailed in the second half of a game — until Sunday night.
Now they have the hardware to prove their excellence.
“Words can’t describe this feeling,” said senior Tyler Kayo. “All of the time that we put in, for it to finally end like this, end the way we wanted it to on our terms, it’s just the greatest feeling in the world.”
Londonderry’s last state title came in 1998, so it’s been a long wait for a return visit to the top.
But at the start of the season, many in the Lancer locker room strongly believed that they would end the year celebrating at UNH.
“This is the best feeling of my life,” said senior running back Jeff Wiedenfeld. “These are my brothers! That’s my family. I love these guys, and we’ll be like this forever.
“We’ve been together since third grade. We grew up together. The whole story is that we never separated. We always stuck together, held that bond and look where we ended up!”
Since that last title 21 years ago, Exeter, a perennially strong program, had appeared in 13 title games.
And Sunday’s weather worked right into the run-heavy Blue Hawks’ favor if they were going to pull the upset.
Long Exeter drives limited Londonderry to just three possession through the first three quarters, and the Blue Hawks took a 10-7 lead with 10:26 left on a Jaedon Cliche 2-yard TD.
But Londonderry responded with a long drive that ended with McEachern’s second 1-yard TD run with 7:09 left. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, an Exeter fumble was recovered by the Lancers. Kayo barreled in from 2 yards to make it 21-10 with 2:41 left, and that was more than enough to hold on for the win.
“We knew, at some point, adversity was going to hit,” said Londonderry coach Jimmy Lauzon. “We went 11 games with really no adversity, but we had a feeling it was going to come today. But we had to battle through it. It was really the first time we’ve trailed in the second half all year, and I’m just proud of them for fighting through it.”
Defensively, junior Will Reyes led Londonderry with 12 tackles. Senior Michael Watts added 9 tackles, and senior Kyle Proulx was right behind with 7. Proulx and Alex Tsetsilas also came away with interceptions, as Exeter turned the ball over three times.
And, with the amount of talent returning next year, it’s certainly not out of the question that the Lancers will be right back at UNH next fall.
But this year’s group is going to be remembered, and celebrated, for their wire-to-wire dominance.
“They came in as a talented group, and we knew that,” said Lauzon.
“But it’s hard to accomplish anything unless talent meets hard work, and they were able to put those two things together.”
Londonderry 21, Exeter 10
Exeter (10-2): 3 0 0 7 — 10
Londonderry (12-0): 0 7 0 14 — 21
E — Nolan Elmore 26 field goal, 4:44
L — Jake McEachern 1 run (Zach Fawcett kick), :52
E — Jaedon Cliche 2 run (Elmore kick), 10:26
L — McEachern 1 run (Fawcett kick), 7:09
L — Tyler Kayo 2 run (Fawcett kick), 2:41
RUSHING: LONDONDERRY (45-234): Jake McEachern 19-107, Jeff Wiedenfeld 18-98, Cole Keegan 3-21, Tyler Kayo 4-8, Alex Tsetsilas 1-0; EXETER (40-163): Derek Edmiston 14-45, Spencer Clark 11-43, Ryan Grijalva 7-41, Jaedon Cliche 8-34
PASSING: L — McEachern 3-4-0, 27; E — Grijalva 3-6-2, 39
RECEIVING: L — Tsetsilas 1-17, Keegan 1-6, Kayo 1-4; E — Edmiston 1-18, Cliche 1-12, Nathan MacDonald 1-9