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Cardinals’ comeback comes up short

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/17/2021 11:06:43 PM
Modified: 9/17/2021 11:06:50 PM

CLAREMONT — Down 27-0 late in the third quarter, the Stevens High football team mounted a comeback and was marching toward the winning score when an interception killed the drive, allowing Laconia to run out the clock for a 27-22 win on Friday night at Barnes Park.

For nearly three quarters, Stevens was unable to get much going on offense and unable to avoid giving up big chunks of yardage to the Sachems running backs. Senior Cole Roy had a pair of scores and more than 80 yards on the ground in the first half for the visitors, and junior Drew Hosmer also scored.

A long Jai-Lique Ribeiro TD run energized the Cardinals and nearly brought the team all the way back.

“As the second half goes, that’s the team I know we have defensively,” Stevens coach Paul Silva said. “The second half a win for me because now we are playing physical football the way I know we can. In the second half, (Laconia) couldn’t do anything when we started hitting people, and when we do, we are pretty darn good.”

Stevens began to turn things around after a Laconia punt rolled to the Stevens 1-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Ribeiro took a handoff in his own end zone, cut outside and outraced Laconia defenders down Stevens sideline for a 99-yard score with about four minutes left in the third quarter. The score fired up Stevens, which held Roy to less than 15 yards in the second half.

On Laconia’s next possession, Stevens recovered a Hosmer fumble at the Laconia 34-yard line. A big fourth down run by quarterback Zack Bundy gave the Cardinals a first-and-10 at the 19. Senior Pascal Lemieux ran 15 yards to the 6 and, two plays later, senior Hunter Christian went over for the score. The second two-point conversion brought Stevens within 11, 27-16.

Laconia went nowhere on its next possession, starting at its own 29 because of a personal foul on the kickoff. Ribeiro took the Laconia punt back to the 24 and then broke a few tackles on the second play from scrimmage to the 10-yard line. Christian had his second score from the 2 two plays later, making it 27-22.

Stevens would get the ball back one more time with about four minutes left on their own 40 and moved it 10 yards before Laconia’s Aiden Valentino picked off a screen pass near midfield with 2½ minutes to play.

“It was screen play, and the kid read it and made a nice play,” Silva said after the game. “We tried to drop it over him. We did same thing earlier and had a nice gain.”

Laconia opened the scoring with about 2 minutes left in the first quarter. Starting at their 27, Cole and Hosmer ran for some big gains to reach the Stevens 25, where quarterback Logan Sanchez threw on over-the-shoulder pass to 6-foot-6 sophomore Keaton Beck for a 6-0 Sachem lead.

Laconia scored again about a minute later after a Stevens fumble on its own 29. Roy raced around the end from 16 yards out on the second play from scrimmage, and Laconia was up, 14-0.

With Stevens again unable to move the ball much, Laconia got the ball back around the 10-minute mark and went 64 yards in seven plays with Roy running up the middle from 11 yards out a 21-0 lead. Hosmer took the second half kickoff back to the Stevens 15 and four plays later scored from 3 yards out. Stevens blocked the extra point, and the score stood at 27-0 with about 9 minutes left in the third quarter.

“We got behind and were fighting an uphill battle,” Silva said. “We gave up a touchdown, turned the ball over, gave up another one. Those things come back to haunt you.”

A Laconia interception on the next Stevens possession looked even worse when the Sachem’s drive stalled and the punt rolled to the 1. And that is when the momentum shifted with Ribeiro’s touchdown run.

“That play got us fired up, but our hitting did, too,” said Silva. “I told them I was proud of the effort. When you are down four scores late in the third quarter, it looks like a pretty bleak night. I know we can move the ball. We just have to be able to stop people like we did in the second half.”

Stevens (1-2) welcomes Kearsarge on Friday night at Barnes Park.

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