LONDONDERRY — With the game on the line, Pinkerton’s Nick Lombard saw the play develop, and he reacted.
“We knew it was going to come down to that last play,” said Lombard. “We didn’t panic. I saw No. 12 (Jeff Wiedenfeld), who was ripping us apart, get the ball and I immediately came down and made the tackle.”
With 1:31 left in the game and Londonderry facing a fourth-and-goal, the Lancers set up a screen play that seemed to have space.
But Lombard surged in to wrap the ball carrier up and bring him down for a loss and a turnover on downs.
No. 4 Pinkerton ran the clock out from there, closing out a thrilling 20-14 victory over top-seeded arch-rival Londonderry in the New Hampshire Division 1 quarterfinals on Saturday.
“This feels amazing,” said fullback/defensive end Gannon Fast. “People doubt us every week, but we come out and play football. We did exactly what we needed to do. I couldn’t be happier with my boys today. Nothing feels better than this.”
The Astros (8-2) dealt Londonderry (8-2) their only two losses this fall, and extended a winning streak against the Lancers that began in 2002.
The win sends Pinkerton to the Division 1 semifinals, where it will face No. 3 Salem, which rolled over defending Division 1 champ Winnacunnet 33-14 on Saturday.
The Blue Devils beat the Astros 15-14 in their regular season matchup on Sept. 29. Pinkerton beat Salem 45-28 in last year’s Division 1 semis.
“As good as this win feels, it will feel even better if we get a win next week,” said running back/defensive back Gennaro Marra. “Salem came to our field earlier this season and embarrassed us. So we have to be ready to play. We can’t wait to face them.”
For a few moments on Saturday, however, Londonderry seemed poised for a dramatic victory.
Fast gave Pinkerton the lead with 8:06 left when he plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown, his second of the game. But the extra point was blocked, making the Astros’ lead just six.
Londonderry then took over at its 35, and embarked on a methodical 15-play drive that advanced to Astro 8-yard line with 2:26 left on the clock.
But Pinkerton’s Robbie Fahey stuffed a run on first down, and Jackson Clark made a tackle for a short gain on second down. Londonderry went to the air on third down, but Johan Rosario knocked the ball away.
That left the Lancers with one play to decide the game.
“They had been running that screen for most of the game,” said Marra. “So we saw it coming. Nick is a really smart player, so he was able to get up there and make the tackle. It was a great play.”
Lombard was then mobbed by his teammates.
“I think I blacked out on that play,” Fast said with a laugh. “It was crazy. Great play by Nick.”
Londonderry threatened to take control throughout the contest, but Pinkerton was able to find the answer each time.
The Lancers scored just before halftime to make it 7-7, then opened the second half with a drive to the Astro 29-yard line.
But Pinkerton linebacker Jake MacInnis jumped a pass route, intercepted a pass and sprinted 73 yards for a touchdown to give the Astros the lead.
Londonderry tied it up with a 13-play, 80-yard drive. But Pinkerton struck right back with its own 80-yard drive, and Fast made it 20-14, setting up the final stand.
“I didn’t have the chance to play Londonderry in the regular season,” said Lombard, who was then battling an ankle injury. “So it was really nice to go out and get the big win. On offense, we just needed to protect the ball and not let turnovers beat us. And then we needed to take care of business on that last drive.”
Marra led the Astros with 110 yards on just nine carries. Fast added 89 yards on 16 rushes. Pinkerton threw the ball just three times, but one was a crucial 31-yard completion from QB Aiden Goujon to Trent Leduc that set up the team’s first score.
Clark and Lombard each led the Astros with eight tackles, while Fahey added six stops and Leduc had four tackles.
The Astros now set their focus on Salem, and earning a return trip to the state title game.
“We have a huge game next week,” said Lombard. “We lost to them by one point earlier this season, and it hurt. We are excited for a second chance.”
Pinkerton 20, Londonderry 14
Pinkerton (8-2): 0 7 7 6 — 20
Londonderry (8-2): 0 7 7 0 — 14
P — Gannon Fast 1 run (Brandon Roy kick), 9:46
L — Cole Keegan 3 pass from Evan Cormier (Zack Chau), 0:06
P — Jake MacInnis 73 interception return (Roy kick), 6:14
L — Keegan 14 pass from Cormier (Chau kick), 1:21
P — Fast 1 run (kick blocked), 8:06
RUSHING: Pinkerton (36-220) — Gannon Fast 16-89, Gennaro Marra 9-110, Nick Lombard 6-27, Avery Battle 1-(-2), Aiden Goujon 4-(-4); Londonderry (53-238) — Evan Cormier 20-105, Jeff Wiedenfeld 30-132, Tyler Kayo 1-1, Jake Holland 1-0, Alex Tsetsilas 1-0
PASSING: Pinkerton — Aiden Goujon 1-3-0, 31; Londonderry — Evan Cormier 10-16-1, 77
RECEIVING: Pinkerton — Trent Leduc 1-31; Londonderry — Wiedenfeld 3-18, Cole Keegan 3-23, Tyler Kayo 2-14, Jake Holland 2-22