Football: Depth, lack of size does Pembroke in against Plymouth 


Monitor staff

Published: 09-03-2023 9:41 PM

PEMBROKE – “Football comes down to tackling and blocking.”

That’s what Pembroke Academy head coach Will Moher said after the Spartans fell to visiting Plymouth on Saturday.

Pembroke displayed athleticism and talent at the skill positions, but were undermanned and undersized in the trenches against Plymouth’s powerful running game as the Bobcats opened the season with a 42-7 victory.

With Nick Cushing as the only senior on the Spartan line, Plymouth exploited Pembroke’s inexperience in the trenches early, driving 48 yards in four plays, all on the ground. Junior Corbin Brown recovered a Robbie Thorne fumble to end the game’s opening drive to help keep the game close early.

But when Pembroke did possess the ball, the Spartans were no match Plymouth’s depth and experience on the line, and Pembroke senior quarterback Joe Fitzgerald was forced to roll out on nearly every play. Still, Fitzgerald managed to go 13-for-21 with 142 passing yards, and had a great connection with junior wide receiver Treyvon Cannon who had five catches for 59 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown catch to tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter.

“Joe Fitzgerald, one of the few seniors I have, he’s a warrior, man,” said Moher, who is in his sixth year as the program’s head coach. “He gives us everything he has on every play. He gives us a shot to succeed. But we’re young up front. We had some center issues, we had some blocking issues.”

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As injuries started to pile up throughout the game and Pembroke’s options to patch together a line became more and more limited, Fitzgerald had to scramble even more. He was sacked four times for a total loss of 45 yards.

The lack of football experience showed as Ben Valente (104 yards on 17 carries) and Robbie Thorne (118 yards on 11 carries) blew by missed blocking assignments and ran through would-be tacklers.

Valente ran for two touchdowns in the first half, including the game’s opening score at 6:24 in the first quarter, and Plymouth quarterback Luke Diamond (3-for-5, 90 yards) threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jaxon Rineer (caught all three passes) in the second quarter to give the Bobcats a 28-7 halftime lead.

Thorne and Tristian Patridge ran in second-half touchdowns.

“We started four or five freshmen today,” Moher said. “We hung with (Plymouth) at first, but then our (lack of) depth started to show. … We have 30 players. We don’t have a replacement for every position. We were putting different people in.”

Among the newcomers who stood out was junior Devin Riel, who hauled in a pair of catches for 45 yards in his first ever football game. Veteran junior running back Luke Hanson (71 yards on 15 carries) was also a bright spot for the Spartans.

“Devin just joined us,” Moher said. “He is a basketball stud. He doesn’t know the plays, so we’re moving him around. Such is life at Pembroke Academy sometimes. Treyvon, Luke, Devin and (senior tight end) Stephen Cox are all good football players, but we have to roll Joe out and be creative. Otherwise he has someone in his face on every play.”

“It’s frustrating to lose,” Moher added. “You only get nine games a year, so if you drop one, even if it’s to a team ranked higher than you, it still hurts. We gotta do a better job up front at the end of the day. Football comes down to blocking and tackling. You’ve gotta do it.”

Pembroke next plays at Kennett on Friday night.