Campbell, Windham get first football championships

The Campbell High School football team played arguably its three toughest games in the first three weeks of the regular season.

And when the Cougars started the season 1-2, there was no panic in Litchfield.

Coach Greg Gush knew that what he and his coaching staff were trying to implement was going to take time.

“We said a bunch of times, our style of offense, it’s not easy to get good at,” Gush said. “There’s timing. It’s a finesse offense.”

But while it was important for the coaches to realize that, it might have been more so for the players.

“We are a passing team that requires timing and we’re a running team that requires reading,” quarterback Kyle Manning said. “There were a lot of steps in the process for us to have success.”

That process started to come together in Campbell’s fourth game of the season, a 35-7 win over a Winnisquam team that entered the game with a perfect record. The win was the first of five-game winning streak to end the regular season, a stretch where the Cougars outscored the opposition 162-27.

“We hit our stride Week 4,” Gush said. “We started to put points on the board and started to get the timing down with our quarterback and receivers. The offensive line started playing very well at that point.”

And in the postseason, Campbell was again faced with those three tough opponents it opened the season against. After avenging losses to Somersworth and Bow, the Cougars wrapped up their first championship with Saturday’s 20-6 win over Newport in the Division III title game.

“It was an amazing, on-top-of-the-world feeling,” Manning said. “To go back to the school and say you’re a part of the first championship at the school, it’s humbling.”

STRANGE TURN OF EVENTS

When a defense makes a goal-line stand, that team typically picks up a bit of momentum, but that wasn’t the case in Saturday’s Division II final.

St. Thomas was leading 28-21 late in the third quarter when it stopped Windham on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, but two plays later, the Saints recovered a fumbled snap in their own end zone for a Jaguars’ safety.

“I turned to (quarterback) Brendan (McInnis) and said that’s going to be the difference in a championship game,” Windham coach Bill Raycraft said. “It speaks volumes for the character of the kids that they can fight through adversity and still come out on top.”

Windham had allowed more than 16 points in a game just once all season, but after taking a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, the Jagaurs watched as St. Thomas quarterback Stephen Hedberg tossed four touchdown passes and pulled the Saints (9-2) in front with 4:55 left in the third quarter.

But after the safety, the game belonged to Windham (11-0). McInnis threw touchdowns to Anthony Gallo and Joey Frake in the fourth quarter, giving him five on the day, and the defense picked off Hedberg twice to finish off a 38-28 win the school’s first football title.

“They came at us with everything they had,” McInnis said of St. Thomas. “I think they’re just a great team and they just made some plays that we thought they were going to make earlier, they just hadn’t made them. We did a good job bracing the storm and we were ready for it.”

DOMINATION

Brian O’Reilly felt one of the teams in the Division I championship game was going to have a commanding performance, he just wasn’t sure who.

It turned out to be Pinkerton (12-0), as the Astros outgained Bedford 383-130 and held the ball for almost 32 minutes in a 37-0 victory.

“I thought we could,” O’Reilly said of the dominating win. “But I also thought it could be an impossible game to move the ball. I looked at them on film and their defense smothered people, but because we didn’t play any of the people that they played, I couldn’t tell if the offensive lines that they played against just weren’t very good or they were that good.”

Bedford was the one that struggled to move the ball, as the Bulldogs (11-1) didn’t pick up a yard until their third possession of the game.

Only twice did Bedford move across midfield, once in each half, and when Bedford had a first-and-goal from the Astros’ 3-yard line in the third quarter, Pinkerton’s defense stepped up.

“They had some great drives and some great runs, and against a team like this, you can’t let them do that,” Bedford coach Kurt Hines said. “We knew they were that big, but I don’t know if we realized how fast they were. Defensively, they had a good flow to the ball.”

Pinkerton won the turnover battle, intercepting Bedford quarterback Tyler Cibotti three times in the first half.

“Offensively, we did what we do,” O’Reilly said. “We ran the ball up and down the field, we throw when we think we need to and we stay away from turnovers. We don’t turn the ball over and they did.”