KEENE — Now that Pinkerton once again has washed its hands of preliminary opponents, the Astros can set their sights on what matters most.
As it has for most of the past decade, third-seeded Pinkerton dispatched a semifinal opponent with its convincing 44-20 victory over second-seeded Keene yesterday, earning a spot in the Division I title game.
“This is the ninth time in the past 10 years we’ve been in the championship game,” Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly said of his squad which will take a 9-2 record against top-seeded 11-0 Concord on Saturday. “This is what we do, so we’re not satisfied just to be in the championship game. So we need to finish.”
Against Keene (8-3), the Astros struggled to a 10-0 halftime lead, scoring on a 9-yard Jack Hanaway on Pinkerton’s first possession and a 33-yard field goal by Kyle Cantalupo.
“(Keene) gave us some issues in the first half,” O’Reilly said. “I’ll give them credit for that. We had control of it, but being up only 10-0 was not good. We made some adjustments at halftime, and came out right from the get go. The sweep worked real well, to be honest.”
Indeed it did as Pinkerton needed just two possessions and 10 plays after intermission to open a 23-point lead. Matt Madden struck first, going down the middle for a 21-yard Hanaway pass before Manny Latimore busted a 21-yard run 58 seconds later.
The second score was set up by a T.J. Urbanik interception — one of five on the day by Astro defenders. Two of the picks were by junior Isaiah Backels, who added another on a two-point conversion following Keene’s first touchdown. Lloyd Williams and David Dupont also had interceptions.
“We just wanted to stay behind (the receivers),” said Backels, who also had two interceptions against Manchester Memorial. “We just wanted to stay deepest and keep our man covered.”
Although Keene did manage 276 yards on 35 passing attempts, Pinkerton shut down the running game, allowing only 27 yards on 21 carries. Justin Poitras had a fumble recovery while Ryan Day, who forced the fumble, recorded two of the Astros’ four sacks.
“There were a lot of turnovers today; a lot of interceptions,” O’Reilly said. “(The Blackbirds) had their way with people this year, but obviously our defense is something they haven’t seen before. They had a difficult time moving against it.”
On offense, Hanaway recorded his second rushing score early in the fourth, providing a comfortable 30-6 cushion. Urbanik (69 yard run) and Dupont (34 yarder) added to Pinkerton’s 21-point final period.
“They’re big and physical,” Keene coach John Lupoa said. “That was the difference in the football game.”
Now the Astros will be looking for payback at 1 p.m. Saturday in Concord, which rallied from a 14-6 third-quarter deficit for a 21-14 victory at Pinkerton on Oct. 11. The top-seeded Crimson Tide (11-0) defeated fourth-seeded Exeter yesterday 22-10. Overall, the Astros are 10-4 in title games, 4-4 since 2004.
“I’ll tell (the players) it’s not over,” O’Reilly said. “You’re not overly excited you’re going to the championship game. It’s unfinished business for us. We’ve been disappointed the last two years to an excellent Exeter team, and we’ll be the underdog on Saturday up in Concord.
“We thought we had that (regular-season) game the last time (against Concord). We didn’t. But that doesn’t matter now anyway. We’re just going to go looking for four full quarters, and if needed beyond.”
As for the veterans, nothing short of a win will satisfy their hunger.
“There was doubt on us,” co-captain Madden said of the regular season. “We always kept our heads up and kept working hard. We battled on the road a lot. We’re planning on taking it. There’s no way we’re losing it three years in a row.”
Pinkerton 44, Keene 20
Pinkerton (9-2): 7 3 13 21 — 44
Keene (8-3): 0 0 6 14 — 20
P — Jack Hanaway 9 run (Kyle Cantalupo kick) 8:31
P — Cantalupo 33 FG, 0:11.9
P — Matt Madden 21 pass from Hanaway (kick failed) 7:55
P — Manny Latimore 21 run (Cantalupo kick) 6:57
K — Riley Morris 4 pass from Alex Parenteau (pass failed) 3:02
P — Hanaway 1 run (Cantalupo kick) 11:58
P — T.J. Urbanik 69 run (Cantalupo kick) 7:33
K — Parenteau 1 run (Morris pass from Parenteau) 6:00
P — David Dupont 34 run (Cantalupo kick) 5:45
K — Parenteau 1 run (pass failed) 1:43
RUSHING: Pinkerton (47-386) — Urbanik 9-133, Latimore 18-117, Madden 6-69, David Dupont 1-34, Hanaway 4-17, Brett Dattilo 1-16, Nicholas Liporto 2-0, Conner Holland 6-0; Keene (21-27) — Tom Galanes 2-11, Parenteau 12-10, Patrick Sullivan 1-7, Tim Lane 5-0, Morris 1-(-1)
PASSING: Pinkerton (2-3-45, 0 interceptions) — Latimore 1-1-24, Hanaway 1-2-21; Keene — Parenteau 21-35-276, 5 interceptions
RECEIVING: Pinkerton — Riley Cahill 1-24, Madden 1-21; Keene — Isaiah Singer 8-97, Morris 5-71, Lane 3-5, Galanes 2-65, Emmett Kiernan 2-26, Andrew Simmons 1-12.
What: Division 1 championship
Who: Pinkerton (9-2) at Concord (11-0)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Previous meeting: Concord 21, Pinkerton 14 on Oct. 11
Last titles: Pinkerton 2010, Concord 2000