Kurt Hines stood near the East end zone of the Bedford High School football field Friday night, hands on hips, a dazed look in his eyes, as if someone played a cruel practical joke on him, his coaching staff and his players.
In a sense, someone had – after starting the season 6-0, the Bulldogs were going to miss out on the playoffs after losing to Manchester Central 20-16 in the regular-season finale.
A team that was ranked No. 2 in both of the media power polls for most of the season would now be sitting at home, thanks mostly to Little Green running back Jesiah Wade and the Bulldogs inability to stop the senior during the second half.
“It’s disbelief,” Hines said of what he was feeling. “It’s frustrating. It’s not the finish we wanted obviously. It’s going to sting for a while, but we’ll turn this around. This will certainly motivate us for next year and it pains me to say that right now. I didn’t think we were done.”
Bedford (7-2 in Division I North Conference) was all but done when Wade scampered 35 yards for the clinching touchdown with 1:28 left in the game. That gave the Green (7-2) a 20-10 lead, but a long kickoff return by Mike Vailas set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Dan Colella to Nate Jaeger that made it 20-16 with 51.9 seconds left. Central was able to recover the onside kick and ran out the clock to end the game.
Wade finished with 217 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries, including 26 carries, 135 yards and the game-winning score in the second half. Central also got two field goals from Keegan Laberge, the second of which came from 37-yard out and gave the Green a 13-10 lead with 6:23 left.
“That was as hard as I’ve ever seen a Central football team play,” Central coach Ryan Ray said. “We had to. It was a battle. Bedford is awesome. They are a great, great team and we are certainly fortunate to get out of here with a hard-fought win.”
Central’s offense picked up 20 first downs, was 12 for 23 on third- and fourth-down and had the ball for 29:59, but its defense was just as impressive. The Green forced four turnovers, including three interceptions of Colella, and despite giving up a touchdown on the Bulldogs’ first and last play, allowed just a 26-yard field goal by Keelan McCoole in between.
“That is a team that averages 38 points a game and after the first play, it was absolutely amazing defense,” Ray said. “Our defensive coordinator Darnerius Watson, our defensive back coach Joe Pasqual, our linebacker coach Alan Lemay, they deserve a lot of credit to design something that we thought would at least slow down an amazing offense. Bedford had an amazing year and it’s very unfortunate for them they had to run into us. Not trying to sound arrogant, but our guys were on a mission and we played hard.
“Our defense really has played well at times this year and for very long stretches, but we always seem to stub our toe and give up big plays that smart football teams shouldn’t do. We’ve seen our defense have the ability to do that, but we have to do it for four quarters.”
Vailas got Bedford on the board on the Bulldogs’ first play, scoring on a 43-yard run to make it 7-0 with 10:26 left in the first. Vailas also kept Central out of the end zone on the next drive, picking off a pass from Richie Greely at the 1-yard line. Bedford forced three Central turnovers in the first half, but couldn’t do anything with them.
“We made too many costly mistakes,” Hines said. “We had some fumbles, some picks and we can’t afford to do that against any team. Central capitalized on those. It stinks to lose, but this is what it’s all about. You’ve got to deal with losses as well.”
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they’ll have to deal with this one until 2014.