Football: Demoralized and despondent, Concord drops home opener after star running back gets hurt

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 09-15-2023 12:58 AM

CONCORD – The play Concord football ran with under two minutes remaining in the first half from the Salem 25-yard line on Thursday night was just like so many plays the Crimson Tide have run the last couple years: The team put its faith in Eli Bahuma, who carried the ball on a handoff to the right side. Only what happened next was different, and it could potentially upend the trajectory of Concord’s (0-2) season. 

Bahuma felt his knee buckle, his head coach Jim Corkum said, and he lay on the grass. With help from the athletic trainer and teammates, he limped to the sideline and plopped down on the bench. One can only imagine the thoughts racing through the star senior running back’s mind as he later emerged on crutches.

Back on the field, the Tide still held a 7-6 lead against the Blue Devils, hoping to avenge its week one loss to Londonderry. And while Concord capped off that drive with a touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak from Colby Nyhan to take a 14-6 lead, Salem (3-0) outplayed the maroon and white in the second half to come away with a 28-14 win.

The play that injured Bahuma could be the turning point in Concord’s season. The turning point in Thursday’s game, though, came a bit later, in the third quarter. Still leading 14-6, Concord had just halted a Salem drive on a fourth-and-9 from the Concord 24-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing Concord possession, Nyhan rolled to his right and fired a pass that Salem cornerback Calen Smith read like book and intercepted right in front of the Concord bench. After the defense had just held off a drive that nearly took up half of the third quarter, it trotted right back onto the field. Eight plays later, Salem QB Nolan Lumley punched the ball across the goal line on a sneak to make it 14-12. The two-point try failed.

Concord still held the lead, but it didn’t feel like it. The offense struggled to move the ball, and when Salem took a 20-14 lead on a Kevin Todisco 18-yard touchdown run with 7:13 left in the fourth, it felt all but over. The Blue Devils added some insurance on a Talen Walton five-yard score with 1:18 remaining in the game. 

Now 0-2 and the status of his best player uncertain, Corkum can only sit and question what’s gone wrong for a program that came off of last season looking like it had so much promise.

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“It was very clear that the tougher team won the game tonight,” he said after the loss. “When it was time to dig down and to get a couple yards and get a push and really forget about scheme, forget about play design...they were able to do that, and we weren’t able to do that. They wanted it more, and they deserved to win.”

“Wanting it more” is a common coach’s refrain, of course. Both teams put in similar amounts of time preparing, both likely have similar offseason training programs. They likely both “wanted it” the same. Salem was just flat out more physical and withstood a rough start on the road to pull out a gritty win.

There are no easy answers for Concord, especially if Bahuma’s injury keeps him out of action for an extended period. Demoralized, Corkum pondered what a Bahuma-less future might look like.

“I think we got some guys that have shown it here and there,” he said of other running backs on the team. “We’re going to have to get creative, and kids are going to have to step up and maybe play positions they haven’t played before and try and get our personnel to fit our team the best we can and see if we can start stringing some wins together.”

Next up is a date at Manchester Central, an opponent Concord beat last season, 43-15. But last season – one that saw the Tide reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years – feels more and more distant. A team that entered 2023 with measured, but high expectations for itself has not yet lived up to them. There’s plenty of time still left, but at 0-2, the pressure has begun to mount.

“Lot of games in front of us, and a lot of good teams we have to play,” Corkum said. “We gotta make sure we’re prepared.”

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