Memorial wins 28-27 against South, can now earn playoff berth next week

Sign Up For Our FREE Daily eNews!

DSC 0307 2
Connor McFarland on Oct. 21, 2022. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – There are football games where one team dominates and there are football games that are too close to call until the clock runs down to nothing. Sometimes though, there are games that can’t quite decide which one of those games it wants to be until the very end.

Manchester Memorial walked away with a 28-27 victory over Nashua South on Friday night thanks to interception by Memorial freshman Lucas Brown with seven seconds left, ending what looked like it could become an 86-yard game winning two-minute drill drive. Brown’s interception also completed a contest where both teams appeared like they might run away with the contest, each side almost randomly exchanging that momentum.

Memorial held that momentum first, as junior Connor McFarland connected with fellow junior Ethan Vilgrain on an 89-yard strike, finishing Memorial’s opening drive with a score. A botched South punt gave Memorial the ball just two yards from the end zone on their next offensive opportunity, and it was an opportunity that McFarland would take, needing only one play to find junior Martin Alisandro through the air for another touchdown.

The Crusaders showed no signs of slowing down as both teams exchanged possessions and Brown picked off senior Karsten Lemire to stop a Panthers drive that looked poised to score. Brown got Memorial the ball back at their own one-yard line, leading to a series of near safeties that the Crusaders just managed to avoid. However, a poor punt gave South the ball back on Memorial’s 32, and Lemire found the score that appeared so close before, capping what ended up as a six-play drive by a ten-yard touchdown run with just 11.6 seconds left in the first quarter.

South’s Joshua Tripp makes a catch while Memorial’s Lucas Brown watches. Photo/Stacy Harrison

South could not grab a two-point conversion after that first score, but sophomore Kyle Emmons got that conversion on the Panthers’ second touchdown, a one-yard keeper by Lemire halfway through the second quarter.

For most of the second quarter, it was the visitors that were in control. The Purple Panthers would get the ball back just two plays after Lemire’s score as senior Hayden Leone intercepted McFarland, giving South a chance to potentially pull away. But South couldn’t pull away.

Both teams moved the ball on subsequent drives, but neither would find another score until McFarland connected on six straight passes, with the last finding Alisandro from five yards out and with just 14.9 seconds in the half.

South would tie things up at 21 a piece their first drive of the second half, taking 11 plays to find the end zone on what was another Lemire goal line sneak and they’d take the lead on their first drive of the fourth quarter, converting another interception from McFarland, this time by Robin Maisse, into a drive that led to another rushing touchdown.

Sophomore Liam Gallagher couldn’t give South the extra point, and if South could have kept the momentum it regained following the half, it may not have mattered, but their second half dominance began to evaporate almost as soon as Memorial got the ball back.

Photo/Stacy Harrison

McFarland would lead the Crusaders 66 yards down the field, completing a 12-play drive with a quarterback keeper of his own. Memorial kicker AJ Sebastien would manage to drive home the extra point following that score, giving Memorial a precarious one-point lead with just over five minutes to play.

Given the amount of twists and turns up to this point, it was unclear if Memorial would just concede back another score to South, but they did not. Three plays into South’s next drive, a Lemire throw found its way into the hands of Alisandro, giving Memorial a chance for what could be a game-sealing score, or at least an opportunity to eat enough clock to prevent any South comeback.

The Crusaders managed to run their way into South territory and narrowly avoided catastrophe with a fumble that meandered out of bounds, pinning South back for that one final drive that looked like it could be a winning drive until Brown made it clear that it was not.

While it’s easy to look at the missed extra point as the difference on the scoreboard, given the sheer number of times where South looked in control of the contest where the Purple Panthers could have made that moment irrelevant, a fact not lost on South Head Coach Scott Knight.

“I am without words right now, I’m just in disbelief,” he said. “We clawed our way back and I thought we were going to take control, but we just couldn’t finish. We had them in a hole a whole bunch of times, but we just couldn’t finish the deal.”

In contrast, the result brought a mixture of relief and exhilaration to Memorial Head Coach Rob Sturgis.

“It was awesome, the kids really handled adversity well throughout, I mean, to jump out to a big lead and then let them get back in the game right before the half, it’s really good that we’re at the point in our program where we’re not riding on momentum waves, we’re getting there and we’re playing football the right way,” he said. “The scoreboard doesn’t dictate how we play football. We play the Crusader way and that’s hard-nosed, physical football. If we do that enough for the whole 48 minutes, we’ll have a chance in the end.”

With the new NHIAA Division I playoff format, which allows 13 out of the division’s 21 teams into the post-season, the long-downtrodden Crusaders.

“That we get to play a meaningful game in the final week of the season is really exciting for our seniors and will really help us growing as a program moving forward,” said Sturgis.

South (1-7) will complete its season next Friday at home against Goffstown.

Note: Stacy Harrison is the mother of the kicker mentioned in the story.

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.