Injuries, turnovers lead to Bishop Brady’s 28-0 loss
EPPING – Two weeks ago, when an injury-riddled Bishop Brady (4-5) faced Epping-Newmarket (5-4) it was at home with playoff home-field advantage on the line. Brady committed five turnovers and allowed Blue Devils running back Joe Leclerc to rush for four touchdowns and 234 yards on 26 carries in a 33-21 loss. Fast-forward to yesterday’s Division III East playoff contest, it seemed that things would change. Senior running back/linebacker Dalton Morris and senior lineman Hunter Migneault, recovered from injury, were back in the lineup. Bishop Brady, playing in its first postseason game since 2009, was prepared for a challenge from the Blue Devils’ running game, this time in Epping.
But the more things changed, they just as quickly stayed the same, as Epping-Newmarket won, 28-0, to claim the conference title and move on to next week’s semifinal at No. 2 Stevens.
Leclerc ran for 201 yards and scored three touchdowns and Bishop Brady committed four turnovers. Morris and Migneault both missed most of the second and third quarters after sustaining injuries in the first quarter. Starting quarterback Brendan Johnson missed the entire second half after injuring his arm getting sacked, and productive runner Moses Murenzi took a big hit and missed several plays, cutting the Green Giants down to size and leaving the Brady bench even more depleted than before.
“At one point we had half of our captains on the sidelines,” Brady Coach Greg Roberts said. “We only have five seniors and three of them were standing on the sideline. We were playing some kids new to the program … Plan B is not generally the plan you want to use in a playoff game.”
Facing a battle-scarred and young (15 of the 28 players are freshmen) team, the Blue Devils took control of the game early. Alex Souvannaseng ran back the opening kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown. Bishop Brady took a penalty on its first play and Morris (42 receiving yards) fumbled on the third play after catching a 19-yard pass from Johnson (3-for-7, 48 passing yards, 15 rushing yards), giving the ball back to Epping. However, three penalties on the next drive (the Blue Devils had 10 in the game) negated a strong running attack from Leclerc, Souvannaseng (11 yards on six carries), Alex Santos (37 yards on three carries) and Jeremy Espo (15 yards on five carries), but eventually Brady’s luck ran out, with Leclerc scoring on a 10-yard run with 3:37 left (Jordan Higginbottom kicked the extra point) to take a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. Once Coach Roberts’s squad started to slow the run, Epping took to the air with Alex Hackett (4-for-5, 59 yards) connecting with Jared Vincent (39 receiving yards) to continue to gain significant yardage.
Just when it looked like things could get out of hand, a Migneault sack on a third-and-5 play for a loss of 15 forced the Blue Devils to punt and a series of penalties (including one for a 22-yard loss) on the next drive put Epping at its own 8-yard line, and a nice punt return from Matt Tetu (40 yards on 11 carries) gave Brady a chance to get on the scoreboard with 3:27 remaining. Johnson led a drive that put the Green Giants at the 18-yard line and threatening to score, but two passes fell incomplete in the end zone. Those plays proved to be the last for Johnson when Santos made a hard sack that injured Johnson’s arm on the next play.
“It was only 14-0 at half. That’s unbelievable considering the situation,” Roberts said.
With Johnson on the bench and no backup on the roster, Tetu, who played an all-around great game but had never played quarterback before, took the field to lead the offense in the second half.
“I had to step in at quarterback. I’ve never taken a snap all season, but you know, I gotta do what I gotta do for the team. I’ve never taken a snap from a center in my life,” Tetu said.
Tetu certainly did not shy away from the challenge. He attempted 16 passes and while he threw an interception and most attempts fell incomplete, he made his first three completions, including a 14-yard pass to Chris Thurber.
“Matt did everything he could. We basically had to rely on him for most of the game. We knew that we didn’t have a backup, but that Matt could handle the ball,” said Roberts, adding that “not having a rhythm and any consistency, it’s very difficult.”
Despite a valiant effort from Tetu on both sides of the ball (he made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 65-yard run from Leclerc), the Blue Devils continued to wear down Brady, earning 332 yards in the game, 288 of them on rushes. Leclerc scored on runs of 2 and 14 yards in the third quarter to go up 28-0 and the rushers ate up the clock in the fourth to seal the win.
Roberts was quick to point out Brady errors and didn’t solely blame injuries for the loss.
“They struggled. That’s all there is to it. We didn’t play as well as we could’ve,” Roberts said. “Epping was the better team and they deserved to win,”
But Roberts was also fair and realistic in his team’s expectations, pointing out that four freshmen were starting on defense against a prolific running game.
“I think we’re a good team. Obviously, we’re playing with half a team and we can still be in a football game pretty much all game long,” he said. “It’s disappointing that we can’t keep our kids healthy so that we can compete like we did at the beginning of the season. It’s just a tough way to end the season.”