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Great expectations: Souhegan High football team top-notch from start

The Souhegan High School football team celebrates its 26-21 Divison II title win over Plymouth. (Photo by HECTOR LONGO)

AMHERST – The feeling was all along that this would be a good team.

“Based on paper, and with experience, it’s not hard to say we’re going to be a very good team,” Souhegan High School football coach Robin Bowkett said back in early September, when teams were allowed to practice.

Clearly, the Sabers were primed to go well beyond where they ended up last year, being routed in the quarterfinals by a very good Bow team.

Their expectations were met; last Saturday, they captured the fifth Division II title in the school’s history, and the first since 2010, 26-21 over Plymouth, in a showdown of unbeatens. The Sabers finished 8-0, and thanks to Riley Lawhorn’s clutch fourth quarter touchdown run, finished a shortened pandemic season that included just one cancellation on the highest of notes.

Here is the road to a state title:

FRIDAY, SEPT. 25

SOUHEGAN 20, HOLLIS BROOKLINE 0

Quarterback Austin Jain had two TD passes and Lawhorn rushed for 234 yards , with TDs also by Jake Civiello and Mitch Hauser.

“I was worried going in how our tackling would be,” Bowkett said. “Pitching a shutout on defense, though, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

SATURDAY, OCT. 3

SOUHEGAN 17, BISHOP GUERTIN 7

Defense again was the story as the Sabers, in a rare game against a Division I opponent, forced an incredible seven turnovers.

“The defense has been awesome,” Bowkett said. “Seven takeaways; your winning percentage goes up exponentially if you’re plus-five in the turnover margin. Just a great effort by those guys.”

Two Jain TD passes to Luke Manning and Jake Civiello, plus a Lawhorn field goal did the trick for the offense.

FRIDAY, OCT. 9

SOUHEGAN 42,

MILFORD 0

This wasn’t expected in a key Division II rivalry matchup in Milford, but the Sabers used three Lawhorn rushing TDs. The Sabers had three rushing TDs in the third quarter – two by Lawhorn (30, 37 yards) and one by Jain (7 yards) to put the game away.

This was a signature win.

“We worry about what we control, but we are certainly capable of taking this all the way to the end, as long as we take care of what we need to take care of,” Bowkett said.

FRIDAY, OCT. 16

SOUHEGAN 55,

MANCHESTER WEST 6

This went as expected in Manchester, as Jain, coming into his own in the position after arriving from California a year ago, tossed four TD passes, two scores for Luke Manning. No contest.

FRIDAY, OCT. 23

SOUHEGAN 41,

TIMBERLANE 8

Another two TD passes for Jain, with Reece Colby and Manning having one TD catch apiece, with Hauser, Mike Maroun, and freshman J.J. Bright also getting into the scoring act on the ground. The Sabers took an early 21-0 lead and then put it away in the fourth quarter in Plaistow to finish their regular season at 5-0.

FRIDAY, OCT. 30

DIVISION II FIRST ROUND

SOUHEGAN VS. WEST CANCELLED

The Blue Knights opted out of the playoffs due to COVID concerns, but Bowkett felt that it was a great break for his hard-working team, rather than worry about any rust.

“It was actually awesome,” Bowkett said. “I looked at it as a first-round bye. … We had a couple of guys banged up, we only practiced three days that week. We let them rest and recuperate, we worked on fundamentals. … Our players needed that (break).”

FRIDAY, NOV. 6

DIVISION II

QUARTERFINALS

SOUHEGAN 63, HOLLIS BROOKLINE 34

The Saber defense scored four times as Souhegan scored a season high nine touchdowns in a three-hour marathon against the defending champion Cavaliers. Mike Maroun blocked two punts, one resulting in the go-ahead score, 8-7. Lawhorn rushed for 224 yards and two TDs and the Sabers overcame a monster game by HB QB Drew Gryniewicz, who threw five TD passes.

“I don’t think Hollis really thought I’d be coming off the edge, but we made an adjustment this week, and it really worked. I’m really happy about that,” said Maroun.

SATURDAY, NOV. 14

DIVISION II

SEMIS

SOUHEGAN 31,

TIMBERLANE 7

Just as they did in the regular season, the Owls were tough for a couple of periods, as it was scoreless until Souhegan scored two late second quarter TDs.

Will Boyle picked up a blocked punt and raced 25 yards for a scoop and score with just over two minutes left before the half and Jain tossed a TD to Jake Civiello with 42 seconds left.

The Owls never recovered.

Lawhorn added a field goal early in the third for a 17-0 lead. The Sabers controlled the middle eight – last four minutes of the half,first four of the third quarter.

“We talk a lot about starting fast, win the middle eight, and finish the game in the fourth,” said Bowkett. “The middle eight, if you win that, you’re in pretty good position.”

SATURDAY, NOV. 21

DIVISION II

FINALS

SOUHEGAN 26,

PLYMOUTH 21

A game and a championship for the ages at Saber Field. The Sabers had led 20-7 at halftime, thanks to TDs by Lawhorn, Hauser and Jain-to-Manning, but suddenly with just over five minutes to go, found themselves trailing 21-20.

Then Lawhorn raced 70 yards with 4:01 left to produce the winning score.

Amazing game.

“Adversity is going to happen. There’s no way around it, especially in a championship game against a great, great team,” Bowkett said. “We just kept playing. Continued the mission. We held fast. We got in the boats. We stuck together. And there we go.

“Our kids, my gosh, you talk about mental toughness, it speaks volumes to those guys, that senior leadership.”

“I’m proud of how we responded, and we pushed through,” said Lawhorn. “We haven’t really had many close games, but I just knew as a family, we could push through.”

Champions, finishing a road worth traveling.

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