Bow seizes top seed, knocks off undefeated Pelham, 18-6
PELHAM – As the zeroes on the game clock switched into a brand new 12 minutes for the final quarter of the Division III South Conference championship, the Bow High football team stood with a tie on the scoreboard and a glaring deficit in the field position battle. The Falcons and the top-seeded Pelham Pythons had hardly yielded an inch through three quarters, but with Bow facing a second down mere yards from its own end zone, victory seemed miles and miles away.
The first play of the quarter called for a handoff to the team’s go-to running back, junior Matt Ehrenberg. And the 1,000-yard rusher knew what to do with it.
“I was just thinking we had to get out of where we were,” he said, “because that’s terrible field position.”
Ehrenberg saw to it that that changed. He took a handoff left, made a few Pythons miss and was gone, running 92 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and kick-starting a terrific closing effort that also included an interception and a clinching touchdown as the Falcons came away with an 18-6 victory, the conference title – and a dose of revenge over the only team that had beaten them all season.
“When we lost to them nine weeks ago, every single kid looked at me and said, ‘I want them again. I want to see them again,’ ” said Coach Paul Cohen, whose team lost to Pelham in the season opener, 7-0. “And sure enough, they did everything they needed to do the past several weeks to get here.”
It was a team win in every sense for the Falcons (8-1), from the defensive line that held the Pythons (8-1) to 55 yards on 32 carries, to the secondary that got interceptions from Ehrenberg and Sean Stewart and went from allowing 90 yards and a touchdown on 11 passes in the first half to 65 yards on 15 throws in the second, to the offensive line that sprung Bow backs for 285 yards on 42 carries.
“It was just an outstanding effort,” Cohen said. “When it really mattered, they came together and put it together.”
Still, the Falcons needed a player to step up and deliver the victory, and Ehrenberg, who ran for a school-record 1,112 yards during the regular season, answered the call. It started with the run, which came on a sweep around the left side and ended with him outrunning the Pelham defense in a footrace down the left sideline for Bow’s first offensive score against the Pythons this season.
“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” said Ehrenberg, who ran 22 times for 226 yards. “I was able to break it loose. The blocking was good, my linemen were downfield with me, taking guys down.”
The Pythons were hardly finished, however, and they showed it by going from their 34-yard line to the Bow 15 in seven plays. Pelham’s Bryce Brown, who came off the bench for injured quarterback Joe Slattery and threw for 103 yards, made a mistake on second down by getting too much air on a rollout pass, and Ehrenberg jumped in front for an interception and return that put the ball on the Falcons 46 with 6:23 to play.
It was a backbreaker, and Ehrenberg could tell the Pythons knew it.
“That 92-yard run and then the pick, and then I knew,” he said. “I knew the life was coming out of them and we were really starting to feel it.”
The win was sealed almost three minutes later. After Alexander Reitze (eight carries, 14 yards) and Chris Robbins (five carries, 22 yards) brought the ball into Pelham territory, Ehrenberg took a pitch 30 yards to the 12. A horse collar tackle call put the ball at the 6, and Ehrenberg ran in for an 18-6 lead with 3:30 to play.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete, and a phenomenal football player” Cohen said of the junior back. “But he also knows that he’s one cog in the full wheel, in the full system of the team. And the team recognizes that, as well.”
Both teams answered challenges to put their first points on the board. Pelham had just seen Slattery, who threw for 52 yards and ran for 39 in a quarter-and-a-half of play, go out with an injury, but Brown produced results on that same drive, picking up a fumbled snap, rolling right and hitting running back Chris Benjamin for a 26-yard score with 4:15 to play.
Pelham’s jubilation lasted 11 seconds. That’s how long it took Reitze to pick up the ensuing kickoff at the 21-yard line, slice through the defense and go 79 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 6. That’s where it stayed until Ehrenberg’s big fourth quarter, which put Bow in the Division III playoffs as the top seed and set up a matchup with Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, which beat Gilford yesterday, 27-14.
Though that game won’t have the season-long buildup yesterday’s with Pelham did, Cohen said motivation won’t be an issue.
“A lot of it comes down to preparation, certainly, and skill, but a lot of it comes down to who comes with the stronger desire,” he said. “Fortunately, I think those guys recognize now that they are kings of the hill. And they’re not going to get unseated from the mountain. It’s too close. We’re not getting unseated.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)