Winnisquam runs the table, tops rival Franklin in D-IV football final

Monitor staff
Published: 11/11/2018 12:51:26 AM

LACONIA – They came in unbeaten and left the same way.

For the Winnisquam Bears, there was nothing they wanted more than to put a bow on their perfect season with a state championship. On Saturday they got their wish, running the table by defeating Franklin, 19-14, in the Division IV football final at Laconia High School’s Bank of NH Stadium.

“They left it all on the field. They had a lot of heart and that’s all you can ask of the kids,” said longtime Winnisquam coach Pat Riberdy, who led the Bears to their first state championship since winning it all in Division VI in 2009. “As a coach, you feel great when the team responds the way you want them to respond.”

Riding the arm and legs of sophomore dual-threat quarterback Philip Nichols, Winnisquam (9-0) pieced together a nine-play, 63-yard scoring drive when it needed it most midway through the fourth quarter.

Franklin had just pulled ahead earlier in the frame on a 1-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion from Caleb Vigue. But on a fourth-and-14 from the Franklin 20, Nichols rolled out and found junior Gunnar Horman in the back of the end zone for his second touchdown pass of the night and a 19-14 lead for the Bears.

“(Franklin) took the lead, but I told the kids, ‘Don’t put your head down. Don’t bury it in the sand. Find a way to come out and answer,’ ” Riberdy said. “And we did. We marched straight down the field and got the score we needed.”

But the contest didn’t finish without some drama.

On the next possession, Franklin drove the ball down to the Winnisquam 47 and faced a fourth-and-3 with just over 1:30 to play in regulation. The Golden Tornadoes, a heavy ground-attack team, opted to throw deep but the pass fell incomplete and Winnisquam had a chance to sit on the ball and drain the clock.

Except the Bears inadvertently handed the ball back to Franklin near midfield with 8.8 seconds left on the clock after taking a knee on the fourth down. The Golden Tornadoes ran two plays, but couldn’t connect on the miracle heave they needed.

“It’s tough. It’s all still a blur right now. The fight inside of them was the biggest thing. I’m glad they never gave up, and it came down to a couple of plays,” Franklin coach Jeff Davis said. “Obviously that fourth down, we didn’t realize it was fourth down and we ended up trying to throw it deep. I’ll take the fall for that, man. It’s a learning experience but the kids never stopped.”

Winnisquam was led by Nichols, who finished 7 of 16 for 114 yards in the air and carved up Franklin for 190 yards on the ground, including an 82-yard scamper that set up senior running back Angelo Glover’s 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

“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,” Nichols said.

That type of performance on a stage this big was more than enough to impress his head coach.

“His poise and everything like that, it’s just unbelievable,” Riberdy said. “He just said, ‘Hey, I’m going to take over this game,’ and he did. He got hot and I ran with him. (Franklin) was keying on some other players, and that’s fine, but (Nichols) can do both and it paid off for us.”

Vigue accounted for all of Franklin’s scoring with some tough running on the ground, churning out 68 yards on 17 carries with two scores for the Golden Tornadoes, who made huge strides this season to finish 6-3.

“They never stopped working. They fought hard. They were the underdogs and we gave (Winnisquam) a hell of a run,” Davis said.

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

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