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Loss hampers Winnisquam football team’s playoff chances

TILTON – The Winnisquam seniors and Coach Pat Riberdy held an impromptu meeting after yesterday’s 18-8 loss to Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough. The Bears still have one game left on their schedule, but the meeting may have been an early part of the farewell process.

“We were talking about the seniors playing together and our season, this being the last home game,” Riberdy said. “We were getting all the emotions out, kind of hugging it out, talking about losing games, and how no one likes to lose, especially when we’re at home and it means a lot, the season on the line and everything.”

The game had huge playoff implications for the two teams. The win gives Inter-Lakes (4-3) the inside track on earning one of Division III North’s playoff spots. If the Lakers beat Epping-Newarket next week, they’re in. Winnisquam (3-4) could sneak in if it beats Newfound next week, Inter-Lakes loses, and the Bears wind up with more NHIAA points than the Lakers.

Yes, it’s still a bit complicated, but the coaches chose to keep it simple for their teams.

“The whole season was on the line. These guys knew it and that’s exactly how we coached it and prepared for it,” Inter-Lakes Coach Jon Francis said.

Since both teams use straight-forward, run-oriented offenses that aren’t built for comebacks, finding a way to build a lead was critical. The Lakers did just that, with more than a little help from a pair of turnovers from Winnisquam.

The first came when Malik Carter picked off a Greg Hunt pass at the Inter-Lakes 35. Two play later, Nick Hurd (13 carries, 91 yards, touchdown) rambled 50 yards to the Winnisquam 4 on an inside counter, the Lakers’ most effective weapon.

“It took us too long to figure out their one play. Well, I call it the one play, that counter,” Riberdy said. “They just kept hitting us with it.”

Two plays after Hurd’s long run, Nick Brothers (nine carries, 87 yards, two touchdowns) found the end zone from 3 yards out to give the Lakers a 6-0 lead with 3:42 remaining in the first quarter.

The next Bears turnover came on the next play from scrimmage as Manson Phu forced a fumble from Winnisquam’s Christian Serrano (17 carries, 57 yards) and Cody Lee recovered it on the Bears 24. Joshua Blundo (3-for-6, 31 yards) hit Brothers with a key 18-yard screen pass on a third-and-6 to move the ball to the Winnisquam 2, and Hurd pushed his way in from there to make it 12-0 with 2:10 left on the first-quarter clock.

“Any time you can capitalize on turnovers like that, or on a big play, that’s what you’re looking to do, and that’s what good football teams do,” Francis said. “A good team will find a way to win.”

The Bears offense suffered another blow early in the second quarter when Hunt left the game with a hand injury and was replaced by sophomore Charlie Taylor.

“That was a lot of weight on Charlie’s shoulders right there, that’s asking a lot of a sophomore coming in cold off the bench,” said Riberdy, who also added that “(Hunt) takes the majority of the snaps in practice and you get a rhythm going with the players and there are certain plays that we like to run that we can run with Greg better than we can with Charlie, and I think it changed the emotions of the game a little bit.”

The Lakers added one more score before halftime, and once again they used the counter. This time it was Brothers finding space through the middle, galloping for 69 yards and the score on a third-and-13 to put Inter-Lakes on top, 18-0, with 2:19 remaining in the first half.

Led by Clark Roberts, Pat Boyle and Matt McHugh, the Winnisquam defense tightened after halftime. After giving up 191 yards in the first half, the Bears allowed just 32 in the second half. Their offense also made improvements (47 yards in the first half, 104 in the second), but it couldn’t sustain any drives or momentum.

The Bears moved the ball to the Inter-Lakes 25 early in the third quarter and again in the fourth, but both drives ended with failed fourth-down plays. Winnisquam’s only score came when both teams had their junior varsity players on the field and Taylor hit Hunter Tierney with a 24-yard touchdown pass. Jacob Snow, who recovered a fumble to set up the score, ran in the two-point conversion.

“We want to run the ball and we really couldn’t do it. We really couldn’t get anything going,” Riberdy said. “We had a couple of drives that started to go, but then they stalled out. A few mistakes, some blocking assignments, or different things like that, and it just broke the plays down.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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