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Raiders race past Stevens in NHIAA football opener

  • Lebanon's Jackson Stone moves past Stevens defenders for a touchdown during a game on Friday, Sept. 25, 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.

  • Stevens' Hunter Christian recovers a fumble during a game against Lebanon High on Friday, Sept. 25, 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.

  • Lebanon High School junior Eva Roux sings "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the start of a football game between Lebanon High and Stevens High on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, in Lebanon, N.H. It was the first game of the season for both teams. (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: 9/25/2020 11:02:51 PM
Modified: 9/25/2020 11:02:39 PM

LEBANON — Chris Childs’ speedy Lebanon High football team shares something with the Raiders’ coronavirus-truncated schedule: Blink and you might miss something good.

Lebanon’s rapid-fire offense and quick-to-the-ball defense overwhelmed Stevens in the form of a 59-14 rout on Friday night at Henry Emerton Memorial Field in the pandemic-stalled start for both schools. The Raiders (1-0), despite moving up to NHIAA Division II this season after a trip to last year’s D-III finals, looked ready for the challenge, scoring on every offensive possession and adding a long punt return for a touchdown as well.

Six different Raiders crossed the goal line on a night when the hosts rolled up more than 400 offensive yards on the Cardinals (0-1).

“We hadn’t scrimmaged anybody and hadn’t done any hitting, so to come out here … I’m proud of the kids for executing what we’ve worked on,” Childs said. “Just playing fast and getting after it, it was exciting from that end.”

In a year where no NHIAA team will play more than five regular-season games before entering an open state tournament, getting off to a fast start is essential. The Raiders wasted little time.

Lebanon’s starting backfield of Nyeoti Punni, C.J. Childs and Hartford High transfer Cole Shambo proved too quick for the Cards. The Raiders’ linemen kept Stevens away from junior quarterback Jackson Stone and frequently beat their blocks to lead Lebanon runners into the visitors’ defensive backfield.

“They disguise a lot of stuff, too; it makes it hard,” Stevens coach Paul Silva said. “They run the waggle pass out of the wing-T; it looks like a run and they get guys out quick. You’ve got to commit to the run because they’re so fast, then by the time you get back into a zone or try to cover man, you’re behind the 8-ball. They’re going to be tough to defend.”

Lebanon took the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards in 2½ minutes, taking the only lead they’d need on an 11-yard Shambo scamper just 2:34 into the contest. Stevens turned the ball over on downs on its half of midfield with its first possession, the Raiders capitalizing on Punni’s 38-yard scoring dash one play later. Lebanon held a 16-0 lead with 7:21 still on the first-quarter clock.

Stone (3-for-6, 81 passing yards, 2 TDs) moved the Raiders 58 yards for another score before the end of the opening period, calling his own number on a 10-yard TD keeper with 1:50 remaining.

“Your linemen don’t have to block as long,” Childs said of Lebanon’s quickness. “They can overcome a mistake and outrun somebody. … We have some guys up front that can move, too. We’re pulling guys and moving guys, so it’s fun to see them run around the field like that.”

Stevens didn’t amass a first down until the final play of the first quarter. Two Owen Taylor incompletions followed to open the second quarter, after which Stone accepted a Braxton LeBlanc punt and returned it for a 72-yard touchdown and a 31-0 advantage.

Stone closed the half with two scoring passes to senior wideout Calvin Bates, covering 39 and 13 yards, to take a 45-6 cushion into halftime. Lebanon had a 95-yard TD punt return by Shambo off of a lateral wiped out by a penalty, and the Raiders’ shutout hopes went by the boards when Taylor (5-for-9, 85 passing yards) connected with Clayton Wadsworth on a 10-yard scoring pass midway through the second period.

Childs sent in the subs for a running-clock second half. Sophomore Sawyer Beaulieu and freshman Talan Patkul provided Lebanon’s final points. Wadsworth, in an impressive performance, contributed Stevens’ other score on an 81-yard kickoff return.

The Raiders ran for 322 yards and spread the responsibility around. No one player carried a heavy workload — Punni had a team-high 67 yards on just three touches — and Childs hopes that means no defense will be able to key on one runner to stop the Lebanon attack.

“It’s going to be a committee,” Childs said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to emphasize with these kids: If they take someone away, we have someone else to go to. It’s a pretty balanced attack.”

Catch them. If you can.

Audibles: Stone had 60 yards on four rushes, C.J. Childs contributed 57 yards on six attempts and Shambo netted 39 yards on four carries for Lebanon. … The Raiders succeeded on two-point conversions after their first three touchdowns. The attempts became necessary after they lost junior kicker Noah Mekus to what Chris Childs called a “freak” high ankle sprain on his planting foot during a recent practice. Mekus watched Friday’s game from crutches. Tanner Ames was 3-for-3 on point-after kicks in his absence. … Pandemic modifications included the referees not touching the football once. Lebanon ferried replacement balls through their center all night long, while the officials used a plastic disc to mark where it should be spotted. … In lieu of a post-game handshake, the teams lined up on the hashes and wished each other a good season. … Attendance was limited to two family members per player. About 20 people still took in the contest while leaning on the fence along Evans Drive, on Emerton Field’s south end. … Both teams play again on Friday, with Lebanon hosting Newport and Stevens entertaining Hanover.

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




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