Lebanon football forced to forfeit NHIAA D-II semifinal over positive COVID-19 test at recent foe

  • Bow running back Andrew Bliss is tackled by Lebanon's Jackson Stone in the end zone for a safety during the second quarter in Bow, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Lebanon went on to win, 30-6. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester)

  • Lebanon's Christopher Childs and Cole Shambo chase down Bow quarterback Alexander Boisvert during the second quarter at Bow High School on Saturday, November 7, 2020. Lebanon went on to win, 30-6. (Concord Monitor - Geoff Forester)

  • Lebanon football coaches Todd Bircher, left, and Chris Childs attach face shields to players' helmets during a practice on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020 in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 11/13/2020 11:51:14 AM
Modified: 11/13/2020 10:16:31 PM

By GREG FENNELL

Valley News Sports Editor

LEBANON — For the entirety of this coronavirus-affected high school football season, Lebanon High found success as easy as A, B, C and occasionally D. There was just one thing against which the Raiders couldn’t fully defend.

A promising campaign ended one round short of the finals on Friday morning when Lebanon canceled Saturday’s NHIAA Division II semifinal with Plymouth at Henry Emerton Field. The decision came as a result of exposure to a Bow High player involved in the Raiders’ 30-6 quarterfinal win over the Falcons on Saturday who later tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

The Raiders were told to await word from the state Department of Health and Human Services on whether they would have to forfeit to the Bobcats or attempt to reschedule the game. On Friday morning, Lebanon coach Chris Childs said too many of his Raiders came into close contact with the infected Bow player — and hence would face a 14-day quarantine — to make rescheduling the game a possibility.

“Basically, we have too many kids that have been exposed for us to continue,” Childs said. “My heart just melts for the seniors and the kids. We had a great year, and to have something like this cut it short sucks, for sure.”

Lebanon’s season ends at 6-1. Plymouth (7-0) will play either Souhegan or Timberlane for the D-II crown on Nov. 21.

DHHS notified the school of its quarantine recommendation on Friday morning in a conversation with SAU 88 Superintendent Dr. Joanne Roberts and Lebanon High Principal Ian Smith, athletic director Mike Stone said. The school queried the NHIAA about possibly rescheduling the game before determining it would be impossible.

“Literally, yesterday, at this time, what was I doing?” Stone said in a lunchtime phone interview on Friday. “I was trying to figure out how many tickets to have and all that, whether we would get a live stream going and who would do it, all of that. In the course from about 2 o’clock to 2:15 (on Thursday), Chris usually stops in to see me before practice. Then boom: We got the phone call, and everything changes. That’s the times we’re living in.”

The forfeit also carried an element of irony. Lebanon and Plymouth were supposed to meet in a regular-season encounter on Oct. 10; that game was also canceled because of positive tests at both schools in the days leading up to the scheduled encounter.

The Raiders reached the NHIAA Division III title game last year, losing a 28-21 contest to Trinity at UNH’s Wildcat Stadium, and were bumped up to D-II this season in a statewide realignment. They tore through this fall’s schedule, the only serious challenge coming in a 7-6 home victory over D-IV finalist Newport on Oct. 2. Lebanon outscored its victims, 195-26, and reeled off three straight shutouts prior to Saturday’s win at Bow.

The Raiders’ foundation was a workmanlike defense centered on gap-control responsibilities and communication. Depending on position, each player focused attention off the outside shoulders of either the opposing center (A gap), guards (B), tackles (C) and ends (D) on each snap, adjusting when Childs or defensive coordinator Todd Bircher called for a blitz.

Lebanon allowed just two offensive touchdowns all season, letting nothing through from a TD catch by Stevens’ Clayton Wadsworth in the first half of week one until a garbage-time score by Bow in the final period of play on Saturday, a stretch of 21 quarters. Opposing teams averaged just 110 total offensive yards per game against the Raiders.

“Communication is a big part, but we have a lot of trust in each other,” Lebanon junior middle linebacker Cole Shambo said prior to Wednesday’s practice, what turned out to be the Raiders’ last of the season. “We know each other’s jobs; we don’t try to do each other’s jobs for them. Our defensive coordinator really knows what he’s doing.”

Right now, however, there’s no effective defense against COVID-19 beyond watchfulness and separation.

The virus has played havoc with the NHIAA’s fall tournaments. Lebanon joined Exeter, St. Thomas and Winnisquam as football teams forced out of their postseasons by it, either at their schools or as a precaution for possible contact from others. At least 20 state tournament games across five sports and involving 15 New Hampshire schools have been canceled.

“The numbers, I guess they say a lot,” NHIAA executive director Jeff Collins said on Friday. “We have schools that are concerned not only for themselves but for the other schools they’re playing against. ... It’s something we have seen throughout the entire seas on. This isn’t just germane to the postseason.”

Stone doesn’t see that statistic as a sign of something anyone has missed as much as it’s a sign of the times.

“I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that we’re doing the best we can and following protocols,” Stone said. “Our kids in all of our sports this fall have done everything we’ve asked them to do. I’m pretty proud of them. It’s just unfortunate.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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