Football Player of the Season: Winnisquam’s Philip Nichols

  • Winnisquam quarterback Philip Nichols drops back to pass while Franklin’s Kainan Clark applies pressure during an Oct. 27 game in Tilton. Winnisquam and Nichols beat Franklin that day, 20-0, and they beat the Golden Tornadoes again in the Division IV final, 19-14, on Saturday night in Laconia as Nichols accounted for 318 yards of offense and threw a game-winning, 20-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. REBECCA BEAUPRE / For the Monitor

  • The Winnisquam football team celebrates its 19-14 win over rival Franklin in Saturday night’s Division IV championship at Laconia High’s Bank of NH Stadium. REBECCA BEAUPRE / For the Monitor

Monitor staff
Published: 11/14/2018 11:52:39 PM

There was a lot on the line for the Winnisquam football team Saturday night: An opportunity to knock off a longtime rival, the chance at an undefeated season, and most importantly, the Bears were in a position to bring the Division IV championship back home to Tilton.

But on a chilly evening tucked behind Laconia High School at Bank of NH Stadium, Winnisquam’s offense was sputtering.

Franklin had zeroed in on Winnisquam’s bruising senior running back Angelo Glover and the big chunks of yardage the Bears were accustomed to gaining on the ground were suddenly gone.

On the season’s biggest stage, the unbeaten Bears looked, well, beatable. And then Philip Nichols completely took over.

Winnisquam’s sophomore dual-threat quarterback erupted in the second half. First, Nichols helped add to the Bears’ slim lead by setting up a third-quarter touchdown with an 83-yard run before being tackled at the Franklin 1-yard line. Then, with his team trailing by one in the fourth quarter, Nichols found Gunnar Horman for a 20-yard touchdown pass on a fourth down for the eventual game-winning score.

In total, Nichols finished with over 300 yards of offense, going for 133 yards in the air with a pair of touchdowns and using the read-option to perfection to generate 185 yards on the ground.

“They were keying on Angelo (Glover) in the backfield, so the coaches knew that would open up me in the (running) lanes,” Nichols told the Monitor shortly after Winnisquam’s 19-14 victory over Franklin. “We brought the team together at halftime and we knew we needed to make the second half ours. And that’s exactly what we did.”

A year ago, Nichols’s season ended in the opener after breaking his throwing arm in a loss against Somersworth. This season, his final moment was hoisting the Division IV championship plaque after running the table.

“As far as Philip goes just leading the team, taking the team and doing what we ask, he never kind of went outside his box. He’s just a kid who listens and wants to be the best he can be, and I think that goes for every sport he plays,” Winnisquam coach Pat Riberdy said. “He is just one of those kids who handles the moment pretty well. He likes it and it makes our job easy as coaches.”

In an offense designed for his style of play, it was clear from the start of the season that Riberdy had the right guy under center.

In nine games, Nichols rushed for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. He was remarkably consistent as a thrower, too, completing 61 percent of his passes (70-for-115) for 1,102 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions.

When he wasn’t making plays on offense, he became a key member of the secondary from the safety spot, piling up 40 total tackles (28 solo) with two interceptions, including a pick of Franklin’s Harrison Clark late in the championship game.

“He was just one of those kids I was really proud of because I kind of like to work on quarterbacks. So I was really proud of the way he wanted to grasp and learn (the offense) and take the role,” Riberdy said. “That was the best part with the kid. He doesn’t argue with me, he’s just, ‘Yes, coach, I’ll give you what I got,’ and he does it and had a great season.”

Nichols even reminded Riberdy of former Winnisquam quarterback Christian Serrano, a dual-threat who was a perennial All-State player before graduating in 2016.

“The offense is kind of built for kids like Philip. Every year we’ve had good success with it, but the offense is really built for a quarterback who can move and run,” Riberdy said. “He reminds me a lot of Christian (Serrano) just wanting to be the best. Without (Nichols), I don’t know what we would have done, but we’re certainly glad he’s got another couple years with us.”

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)

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