Second-half turnaround lifts East
MANCHESTER – Eric Fairweather got the ball and saw everyone on the defense going in one direction, so he went the other way.
Fairweather cut back across the middle of the field, got some blocks from his teammates and went untouched into the end zone to help put a way a 29-15 win for the East in the fourth CHaD East-West NH High School Football All-Star game Saturday.
The touchdown was the third of the second half for Fairweather, who finished with 108 yards rushing, as the Londonderry graduate was named the Bo Dickson Most Valuable Player. The win was the first for the East in the game’s four-year history.
That performance highlighted a huge turnaround for the East, which turned the ball over five times in the first half, and trailed by two scores less than nine minutes into the game. But the West went the entire second and third quarters without picking up a first down, as the East defense clamped down.
"The first half was difficult, there were a lot of turnovers, but we knew that if we came out in the second half like we’d practiced, we knew we could get it," Fairweather said. "Our defense played lights out. They won it for us. The only times they scored was on a trick play and a short field."
The West scored on its first two possessions of the game, the first after a fumble on the East’s opening drive. On its first offensive play of the game, the West ran a reverse flea-flicker with quarterback Ivan Niyomugabo (Merrimack Valley) hitting Mike Vailas (Bedford) for a 29-yard completion.
Three plays later, Niyomugabo completed a short pass to Walter Szulc (Concord), who then flipped the ball to Vailas, who walked into the end zone untouched. The West then ran a fake extra point to get the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
Following a three-and-out by the East, West quarterback Robert Law (Concord) found Szulc all alone down the near sideline for a 23-yard touchdown completion.
But that would be it for the West, despite having the ball on the East side of the field on six possessions in the first half.
"We didn’t capitalize on those turnovers like we should have," said West coach Keith Jones (Milford). "We stalled drives on some simple mistakes and stuff. But hats off to them, they hung in there. They could have thrown in the towel, but they came back and shoved it down our throat in the second half. They deserved to win the game."
The East scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter, getting a 1-yard run by Brendan McInnis (Windham) to make it 15-7 just 3:59 into the frame.
After a high snap on a punt gave the East the ball at the West 14, Fairweather found the end zone on the next play and then connected with Joey Frake for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 15.
Fairweather added a 1-yard run with 1:37 left in the third to give the East a 22-15 lead – its first lead in the second half in the game’s history – but after the defense held, he fumbled a punt that set the West up with the ball at the East 30 to start the fourth quarter.
But again, the defense made the stop, turning the ball over on downs at its 22-yard line.
"Our defense was very good," said East running back Jack Mahoney (Alvirne), who had 35 yards rushing. "We had some big players and some good athletes. They were coached-up very well. We knew if we gave up the ball a couple of times, they’d get the stop."
The East responded with a 10-play, 88-yard drive that ended up Fairweather’s 32-yard scoring run.
"It was a toss sweep left, so I got the ball and just saw everyone flowing," he said. "The defensive end came up field, so I came back and saw the linebackers and defensive backs flowing, so I cut back across the field. It was wide open on the other side. Huge blocks by the offensive line and Kurtis Jolicoeur (Windham) made a huge block. I owe it all to them."