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Drew Bonifant

High school notebook: Football coaches recall strangest plays they’ve seen

Football coaches are big on structure. The focus is on preparation, executing a carefully assembled strategy and winning the game before the teams even take the field.

Sometimes, however, spontaneity and improvisation manage to slip through that structure. Plays like the one that ended a Washington high school game between Columbia River and Skyview High.

The play was caught on video, and its exposure rapidly rose as it eventually landed on ESPN’s SportsCenter broadcasts. In the game, played Sept. 13, Skyview blocked a potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds, then started celebrating on the sidelines – forgetting the ball was still live. Columbia River recognized the situation, picked up the ball, ran it in and came away with a stunning victory.

It was a strange play, a moment that showed how weird the game can get. Some coaches in the area don’t need a reminder. They’ve seen it for themselves.

Whether it be a quirky drawn-up play or a spontaneous turn of events, a few coaches shared their recollections of the stranger plays they’ve seen on the sidelines.

∎ Concord Coach Eric Brown: The strangest play Brown can recall took place in one of the biggest recent games for his team. Concord was facing Manchester Central in the 2002 Division I championship on a day that was clear and sunny – but frigid and windy.

The elements had a clear effect on the game, as the teams took a scoreless tie into the second half, but its biggest imprint came during the third quarter when the Crimson Tide’s Dan Masters tried a punt from deep in his own territory – and into the stiff, howling wind.

“(He) got it off clean, got a hold of it pretty good. It was kind of end over end, not a great punt, but at least he got it out of there,” said Brown, an assistant that year. “And then it went right backwards.”

The wind blew the ball back past Masters and deeper into the Concord end, and though he picked up the ball and advanced it close to the first-down marker, the officials huddled and awarded Central the ball where Masters originally touched it.

Brown had no inclination to challenge the ruling.

“They came and explained it to us, and we certainly couldn’t argue with that. It was nothing we had seen before. We were all shrugging our shoulders, you know, ‘What’s the rule on this?’

“It was bizarre.”

∎ Winnisquam Coach Pat Riberdy: Riberdy pointed to a play that took place in 2009 when the Bears visited Franklin in the playoffs. The Golden Tornadoes held a 6-0 lead, and Winnisquam, stuck deep in its own territory and with halftime four seconds away, just wanted to cut its losses on the first half.

“We ran a sweep to kill the clock and get it over with,” he said “That was our intention.”

A seemingly harmless play became a disaster when quarterback Derrick Jenness’s pitch to Kyle Pratt was mishandled, deflecting off of the running back. The ball, instead of bouncing along the ground, took a hop straight up – into the hands of Franklin’s Mike Stone, who was as surprised as anyone to be a few steps away from a touchdown and eventual 14-0 lead.

“It was like someone threw a bounce pass in basketball,” said Riberdy, whose team lost by that 14-0 score. “I remember all of us going in shaking our heads, like, ‘That didn’t just happen.’ The kids were deflated after that.”

∎ Bishop Brady Coach Greg Roberts: A coach for 16 years and a head coach for 10, Roberts has seen his share of the odd and unusual, and one such instance had a drastic effect on the season. Roberts was an assistant with Brady in 1997, when the Green Giants played Newport in a play-in game for the Division IV playoffs. The game went scoreless into overtime, and after Newport scored but missed the extra point, Bishop Brady answered with a touchdown and lined up for the kick that would win the game.

The hold was bad, however, and when kicker Jeremy Caldwell followed through, Roberts saw a low kick and nothing but bad news.

“I could see at a pretty good angle … and I knew when he kicked it that it probably wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “You see the ball go into the line and think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I guessed.’ ”

But the ball didn’t end there. It hit off of a lineman’s helmet, deflecting up into the air … and over the crossbar. That made the score 7-6, sending Bishop Brady into the playoffs.

“All of a sudden, it just keeps going,” Roberts said. “In terms of seeing something that’s like, ‘I don’t believe that just happened,’ that’s one of the better ones I’ve seen.”

Capital gains

The capital of the state may also be serving as the capital of its high school golf. Concord (23-4 in Division I), Bishop Brady (12-4 in Division II) and nearby Bow (12-0 in Division III) give the area three teams in the running for state championships, and each squad has proved that depth is the key ingredient to separating from the competition.

“It’s probably the most important variable in high school golf,” Concord Coach Ed Deshaies said. “You don’t usually think of it as a team sport … but on any given day, any one of them can take the top spot.”

Nowhere is that more true than at Concord, where the Crimson Tide has had four golfers (Josh Pifer, Adam Godbout, Ben Bengtson and Matt LaTourette) earn medalist honors and has three more that can approach the 30s with Samantha Reed, Tim Levins and Liam Healy. It’s a group that’s taken the Tide to first place in Division I, and Deshaies hopes it’ll be enough to crack the string of three fourth-place finishes in the tournament.

“That’s always the goal,” he said. “It’ll probably come down to, like most of our matches, our seventh or eighth player coming through with a score that really counts.”

The Falcons and Green Giants have also followed the formula. Bow, the defending Division III champion, is poised for a repeat with a quartet of talented golfers, with seniors Jake Rand and Josh Lacasse, junior Jeremy Duhamel and freshman Doug Champagne already claiming medalist honors. Brady has one of Division II’s best golfers in Alex Von Svoboda, and a pair of golfers that can challenge him each match in Alex Thompson and Nick Vermette.

As Giants Coach Ken Gauthier said, having an ace is great, but having a corps of good players is the trump card.

“If you’ve got three or four good players, you can certainly carry a team to victory,” he said. “There just aren’t a lot of teams that are very deep.”

The success of the capital-area teams may not be a coincidence, either. Local events like the Bill Heinz Memorial Tournament give the players chances to face off against and play with each other, and Bow Coach Mike Seraikas said that has helped create a talent source in the area.

“With these kids, everybody knows everybody,” he said. “They see (each other) in the summer tournaments, in the NHGA leagues. … They all play them, they all know each other. It’s what makes a good golfer, by playing competitively and playing a lot.”

Games of the week

∎ The 6-1 Hopkinton field hockey team visits 5-2-1 Sanborn tomorrow at 4 p.m.

∎ The undefeated Bow girls’ soccer team (7-0) hosts Hillsboro-Deering (6-2-1) Wednesday at 4:15 p.m.

∎ The Belmont volleyball team (7-0) hosts defending champion Winnisquam (5-1) at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

∎ The Winnisquam football team (2-1) gets a test Friday night at 7 against undefeated Pelham.

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