EXETER, N.H. – Attempting to slay Exeter without linebacker Matt Madden was a lot like a fencer preparing to duel without his sword.
Succeeding was nearly impossible.
“I’m not going to make that excuse. Obviously it didn’t help us, that’s part of football. But that one hurt a lot,” said Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly after yesterday’s 31-21 state championship loss to Exeter.
“I don’t want to contradict what I just said, but he’s the leading tackler on our team, with twice as many as the next kid. Not having him in the middle did not help. We could not get them off the field.”
The junior Madden tore his ACL in the regular-season finale against Nashua South. Pinkerton’s dominance against a spread attack like South in the semifinals. Against Exeter and it’s tackle-to-tackle meat-grinder of an offense? Let’s just say Madden was truly missed.
O’Reilly loses Madden on two fronts.
“He won’t be back in time for lacrosse either,” the coach lamented.
Madden, clearly a leader more than just on the field, made a note to the media afterward.
“Write this down, I’m coming back, and we’re going to win this thing next year,” he said.
Bold words and an interesting statement worth pondering.
With Madden, Pinkerton had only four non-senior starters in the lineup this fall.
There’s the franchise Manny Latimore, split end James Toohey and defensive tackle Phil Harper.
That’s not a ton, but Latimore says you had better believe.
“Matt Madden is the heart and soul of this football team, and he will be the heart and soul next year, too,” said Latimore. “We have a great class coming back. We’re definitely looking to win it next year.”
The loss of star Madden wasn’t the only injury that hurt Pinkerton, which played most of yesterday’s game without corner Jake Lisauskas, who got his knee rolled on and suffered an MCL injury.
While his greatest contributions have come on defense, O’Reilly said Lisauskas’ loss hurt on both sides of the ball.
“Jake is our other running back,” said the coach. “His injury stopped me from playing Manny (Latimore) at fullback because I didn’t feel comfortable putting in that package without Jake. So without him and Matt I was missing two major pieces in the backfield.”
Odds and Ends
Estimates had the crowd at about 4,000, but Eustis Field is such a sprawling facility, the number could have been even higher. Every seat was filled and the entire field was ringed 2-3 deep with people. The 50/50 drawing prize was up over $2,000 to the winner. …
Obviously, athletics and football are alive and well on the Seacoast. Within a 10-mile ride, you had 4,000-plus fans at Exeter-Pinkerton, over 3,000 more at Bedford-Winnacunnet and another 5,531 at the UNH-Towson game over in Durham. …
Neither team throws the football, but the killer for Pinkerton was Ethan Joyce’s first and only completion of the day, coming in the fourth quarter after four incompletions when he hit Colby Swane on a 27-yard TD. “That broke our backs,” said O’Reilly. “But it’s not like we weren’t right there. We were. Great throw, great catch. Their kids just made a play when they had to.” …
Speaking of the passing game, with five catches for 218 yards on the year, Manny Latimore also led Pinkerton in receiving yardage. Catch No. 5, a 39-yarder yesterday, was the only one of his quintet that didn’t go for a touchdown. …
Exeter coach Bill Ball paid the ultimate compliment to Latimore, choosing to go for it on 4th-and-4 from the Pinkerton 44 in the final minutes, rather than punting it away to Latimore, who had already returned one for a score.
Rumor had it that Pinkerton defensive back Brett Stuart was receiving a pretty good consolation prize after the game. He and his family were going on a trip to the Caribbean.