Football: John Stark loses 23-20 thriller to Sanborn

By DAN ATTORRI

Monitor staff

Published: 10-15-2023 7:52 PM

KINGSTON – John Stark Regional entered Saturday’s highly-anticipated matchup at Sanborn Regional knowing that they were facing a caliber of opposition they hadn’t faced since the second week of the season and the Generals and Indians didn’t disappoint.

John Stark football was tested in ways it hadn’t been for many weeks, but the Generals went hit for hit, score for score, big play for big play. John Stark made big plays in all three phases. Sanborn just made a few more.

Senior running back Donnie White (three rushing touchdowns and 103 yards on 21 carries) had a huge game and gave the Generals an early lead, but the Indians proved to be a little more versatile, and John Stark (5-2) had some untimely interceptions and penalties down the stretch as Sanborn (5-2) came away with a thrilling 23-20 victory.

The Generals opened the season with narrow wins over Milford, 30-27, and Hanover, 30-22, on Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, respectively, but every game had been a blowout since then.

John Stark employed a hurry-up offense in the game’s opening drive, with a combination of rushes from White, and juniors Joey Dykstra (79 yards on 13 carries) and Tim Lacharite (27 yards on nine carries) that marched the Generals 70 yards over 4:20, finishing  with a 2 yard TD run from White at 7:40 for an early 6-0 lead.

But Sanborn’s Austin Ingersoll (48 yards on 14 carries) returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards and Ben Cardoso (53 yards on nine carries, two catches for 20 yards) ran 28 yards to the end zone on the very next play.

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Indians’ quarterback Brandon Sarette (4-for-9, 43 pass yards, interception) flipped a pass from the 3 yard line to Ricky Caillouette early in the second quarter and Nolan Ash connected on both extra point kicks to give Sanborn a 14-6 lead at halftime.

Senior captain Byron Parrish intercepted a Sarette pass to give the Generals a chance to tie the game with less than two minutes to go before the break, but Ingersoll returned the favor, intercepting a throw by Dykstra with 37 seconds left.

“I reminded the guys at halftime that we hadn’t seen this since we played Milford and Hanover … they hadn’t faced adversity like that,” John Stark head coach Ray Kershaw said. “Sanborn is a very good team. They get better every game.”

The Generals executed a perfect onside kick to open the third quarter, which set up White’s 7 yard touchdown. He also ran in  the 2-point conversion to tie the game, 14-14, at 7:42 in the third.

Sanborn went back up on Cardoso’s 1 yard touchdown run, although Dykstra blocked the extra point, and White had his third touchdown of the game in the first minute of the fourth quarter – this time from 13 yards out to tie the game, 20-20.

Cardoso intercepted another Dykstra throw and returned it 36 yards to John Stark’s 17, setting up Ash’s 29 yard field goal that supplied the game-winning points.

The Generals had the ball with 4:06 left, but a fumbled snap forced John Stark to punt from inside its own 10. Sanborn regained possession at midfield, but unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal substitution and false start flags on three consecutive plays moved the Indians down to the 25.

Sanborn turned the ball over on downs, but it John Stark was back on its own 21 with only 1:07 to go and two timeouts remaining. Stark quarterback Blake Sutkus throw a long ball that Sanborn’s Aiden Chapman picked off and the Indians took a knee to run out the clock.

While Kershaw praised his team’s effort, Saturday’s game exposed areas where John Stark needs to improve if the program is to compete with the state’s best come playoff time.

The Generals signature strong running game and blocking, while not perfect, collected 235 yards. But Sanborn was able to run a more balanced offense, while Stark’s two quarterbacks – Dykstra and Sutkus – went a combined 2-for-9 with 19 passing yards and three interceptions.

The Generals only converted on one of three 2-point conversion attempts, while the Indians kicking game was perfect except for Dykstra’s block.

“That was a hard fought game by both teams,” Kershaw said. “(Sanborn) just came out on the better end of it. If we had made those two 2-point conversions we were going for, it would’ve been a different outcome. It was a battle.”

Penalties also hurt John Stark’s field position late in the game.

“I think a lot of that was emotion and trying to keep it in check,” Kershaw said. “But they handled themselves (well) and I’m proud of them.”

The competitive nature of the game also tested the coaching staff, which had to manage fourth down situations, goal line stands on both sides of the ball, timeouts and the clock, decisions that either weren’t required or had a lot less at stake during the blowouts over the previous month.

The loss was disappointing, but Kershaw is confident his squad can recover. After all, his upperclassmen remember experiencing a one-win season back in 2021 and a winless campaign in 2020.

“They can see that it’s a process,” Kershaw said. “They’re going in the right direction and they’re believing in what we’re coaching. They’ll bounce back.”

The Generals host South Burlington, Vermont in a non-NHIAA game on Saturday and will play at Souhegan (6-0), last year’s Division II runner-up, in the final weekend of the regular season on Oct. 27.