Concord vs. Bedford has Capital City abuzz
Eric Brown paused, his hand to his chin, scanning his mind through 2 ½ decades of Concord High football memories.
“Boy,” the coach said, then paused again. “I’m going to probably go back to ’98.”
It has been that long. Fifteen years since a regular-season football game created such a buzz in the Capital City. Fifteen years since the Tide was undefeated this late in the season. Fifteen years since Concord traveled to Londonderry to face the Lancers in a showdown of undefeated Division I teams in the next-to-last week of the regular season in 1998.
Londonderry won that game, 37-15, earning home field for the playoffs, then beat Concord three weeks later, 33-7, for the state title.
Tomorrow night at 7, Concord hosts Bedford in another battle of undefeated teams, both at 6-0. The winner secures a playoff berth and for all intents and purposes – barring a major upset in the final two weeks – home field when the teams meet again in the quarterfinals (aka the Division I North championship).
The Tide players were just toddlers – a few not yet born – back in ’98, so grasping the historical significance of tomorrow’s game may not be foremost on their minds. They’re just hoping to leave their own mark on the program.
“We’ve never played in a game, as this group, as big as this,” said Marc Gaudet, one of the Tide’s senior captains. “It’s kind of new to us, but we don’t treat it any differently; we just treat it as another game. We need to come out the same exact way and just do our thing.
“Our coaches are really good about keeping our heads (straight), keeping us not to be too cocky about anything – do your thing, do your job, don’t try to do too much.”
So far, that approach has worked to perfection. Concord’s first five games went to running time (leading by 35 or more points) behind an offense that averages 45.8 points per game and a defense that has yielded just 13.5 per game. The lone test came last week against perennial power Pinkerton, with the Tide pulling out a 21-14 overtime win on the road.
Bedford, the Division II runner-up last year, has been winning behind a virtually airtight defense. The Bulldogs have allowed just 4.3 points per game, posting four shutouts, while scoring an average of 36.5 points per game. Like Concord, Bedford’s lone test was against Pinkerton, whom it beat in the season opener, 14-12.
“Bedford’s a very good team. We’ve got a formidable opponent coming up,” said Mike Pelletier, the Tide’s defensive coordinator and a 1997 Concord graduate. “They throw the ball really well, offensively they’re dynamic, they’ve got a quarterback who runs all over the place …”
That quarterback is Dan Colella, who passed for more than 300 yards with five touchdowns last week. The Vailas boys – Nick and Mike – are outside threats, and are part of Bedford’s Vailas football clan, which includes UNH quarterback Andy Vailas.
“We have a mentally strong group here,” Pelletier said, “and I have faith that they’re going to show up.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs fly around and have an active front four that’s got the full attention of Concord offensive line coach Kevin Nyhan.
“They’re in the habit of penetrating offensive lines and causing problems in the backfield, and in order for us to be successful this week, we need to not let that happen,” said Nyhan, a ’94 Concord graduate. “Whether it’s defensive line or offensive line, I feel games are won or lost in the trenches. And every week before the game, I tell the linemen (it’s) another week of accepting that mantle of responsibility. You need to embrace the fact that games are won or lost in the trenches.”
Bedford will have to contend with a versatile and balanced Tide offense that last week ran for 152 yards and passed for 174. Walters Ndi, with five 100-yard rushing games, is the focal point of the running game, while quarterback Rob Law is a threat both running and passing, with Seimou Smith and Jacob Szulc his most targeted receivers.
“It’s exciting. We’re still coaching hard, but to be honest with you, and I know it sounds cliché, we’re really not preparing these kids any differently than we did in 2009 when we were 0-10,” said Brown, who came to Concord as an assistant in 1990 before taking over as head coach in 2009. “We’ve just got some real talented kids who work real hard. As coaches, we’re the same. We’re doing some different things because we’re able to do different things, but we’re still preparing the say way.”
But for the first time in many years, they’re preparing for a game that has the attention of much of the state.
“We want to be able to come out and play them twice at home at Memorial Field,” Gaudet said of home field in the playoffs hanging in the balance. “Get our home crowd, get some spirit in Concord, just do it for our city.”
Added Nyhan: “The feeling all week, just to be in a game of this magnitude, it’s fun.”
(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)