Souhegan football falls in state semis to powerhouse Plymouth High

PLYMOUTH – It was certainly understandable for the fans in attendance at the Division II football semifinal playoff contest between Plymouth and Souhegan at Plymouth High on Saturday to begin thinking about what they might do with their next few hours – instead of watching football – when just one quarter of that huge game had been completed.

After all, the two-time defending state champs who were hosting the contest were absolutely dominating it, building up a commanding 17-0 lead on the way to what was apparently going to be a complete blowout.

However, the folks who elected to remain in the bone-chilling and snowy conditions and not head off to check out one of the latest movies or tackle the weekly food shopping instead saw the fifth-seeded Souhegan High Sabers exhibit a tremendous amount of character and intestinal fortitude in battling the top-ranked host Bobcats the rest of the way before having to face the fact that their 2018 campaign was over under the weight of a 45-28 defeat.

Sabers coach Robin Bowkett was able to take a huge amount of pride from the fact that rather than lying down against the defending and undefeated champs when Plymouth pounded its way out to the early lead, his charges battled hard to make it a game and create all kinds of excitement for the sizable crowd.

“We’ve gotten into the bad habit of letting teams score first, and then we battle back,” said Bowkett. “We did that again today, and I’m extremely proud of that. But in the end we couldn’t get enough stops or score on enough opportunities.”

Spearheading the Plymouth success were skilled and determined senior running backs Owen Brickley and Patrick Malm, who both ran for more than 200 yards and the vast majority of their squad’s 538 yards worth of offense.

Souhegan’s centerpiece was senior quarterback John Lohnes, who ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 191 more yards and two scores.

The two teams did not meet up during the regular season, during which coach Chris Sanborn’s Plymouth Bobcats went a perfect 9-0 with every one of those decisions being double-digit successes.

Souhegan, meanwhile, put together a 6-3 regular campaign in pretty impressive fashion, starting out at a sub-par 2-3 but then going 4-0 the remainder of the way.

The North Division regular season champs from Plymouth took another big step toward bagging their third straight state title by walloping eighth-ranked Hanover by a 34-0 tally in quarterfinal-round play on the Bobcats’ field on Saturday the 3rd, while Souhegan busied itself with a 34-13 defeat of the Bow High Falcons on that opponent’s home soil the same day.

Hence, Plymouth rolled into the semifinal battle with a 10-game winning streak cooking while upset-minded Souhegan began that day’s play with a run of five consecutive successes.

The Bobcats bagged points on their first three offensive series’ with a 15-yard scoring sprint by Brickley, a 31-yard field goal from Peter Wingsted, and a 7-yard scoring run from Malm.

However, the Sabers lessened their deficit with a 10-play drive which culminated with a 13-yard scoring toss from Lohnes to Trey Johnson. And the point-after kick by Jake Grassett made it a 17-7 contest with just a minute gone in quarter two.

Plymouth answered with an 8-play drive which ended successfully with an 11-yard scoring run by Brickley, but the Sabers answered just seconds later thanks to a screen pass from Lohnes to Luke Manning which covered 74 yards and left the locals at the Plymouth one. And then Lohnes carried the ball to paydirt to make it a 24-13 game with 6:52 left in the half.

The Souhegan defense then dug in and held the Bobcats to a three-and-out, with their offense then managing a five-play drive which culminated with a 3-yard scoring toss from Lohnes to Manning.

The Sabers then got two cracks at a two-point conversion thanks to a Plymouth penalty on the first, scoring on the latter of those when Lohnes carried the ball in to make it a 24-21 game with 3:13 left in the half.

But Souhegan didn’t have the momentum for long as Plymouth answered with a 58-yard scoring sprint by Brickley on its next play from scrimmage, and the extra point kick made it a 31-21 contest with 2:51 left in the half.

The Bobcats got the ball back just moments later when Lohnes threw an interception, and the hosts’ subsequent six-play drive produced a 20-yard scoring pass from Cody Bannon to Anthony Velez. The kick made it a 38-21 game with 15.6 seconds left in the period, and that was where the score sat as the teams adjourned for halftime.

The second half began in superb fashion for the local gridders, who required just three plays after the half-opening kickoff to make the score 38-28 thanks to a 51-yard touchdown run by Lohnes less than a minute in.

Coach Bowkett’s bunch then pulled off a successful on-side kick, but their subsequent offensive drive fell apart after three plays.

Plymouth’s offense then embarked on a long drive which chewed up nearly seven minutes, consisted of 14 plays, but fizzled on the Souhegan 21 with 3:21 left in the quarter three.

The Sabers wouldn’t manage any more points the rest of the way while their hosts completed the day’s scoring on a 3-yard running jaunt by Malm with 5:48 left on the clock.

The victorious Bobcats had Malm finish with 253 rushing yards on 35 carries with one touchdown and Brickley end up with 238 yards on 20 rushes with three scores.

Souhegan quarterback Lohnes ended up with his 103 running yards on 11 carries and 12 completions on 25 pass attempts with two interceptions and those two touchdowns. Manning caught seven balls for 119 yards and Johnson snagged five passes for 72 yards.

Speaking of the comeback effort which the pesky Sabers put forth, Plymouth coach Sanborn gave credit where it was obviously due.

“A lot of Souhegan teams in the past have folded after being down early. But Bowkett is a good coach and he has those kids well coached,” said Sanborn. “They made some adjustments and kept battling.”