At the end of the day, it really came down to just one play.
Down one score with just under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Keene defense had Nashua North in a 4th & 1 at their own 29-yard line, an opportunity to get the offense back on the field with plenty of time to try and tie the game.
Instead, senior running back Jordyn Raisanen-Andino (68 yards, two touchdowns) muscled his way through the Keene defensive line and just barely reached the line to gain, all but sealing the deal.
“I think we had it pretty well defended, I think they just out-manned us,” said Keene coach Linwood Patnode of that 4th & 1 play. “They didn’t get it by a lot. … I thought we were in the right spots, they just sunk it out.”
North’s senior quarterback Derek Finlay (126 yards rushing, two touchdowns, 75 yards in the air) put the nail in the coffin two plays later, on a 70-yard touchdown run to put North ahead 28-13, which would end up being the final score Friday night at Alumni Field in Keene.
The Blackbirds held the ball for 34:53 of the 48-minute contest, including a 13:14 drive that lasted from midway through the third quarter to mid-way through the fourth. Keene ran the ball 59 times, often gaining just enough yardage to keep the sticks moving.
“That’s our best defense,” Patnode said. “[North] can score from anywhere and they can score at any time, and we know that. … We knew we had to shorten the game if we had any shot at all at keeping it respectable.”
Junior Wyatt Avery rushed for 107 yards on 26 carries, while classmate Seamus Howard ran for 61 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.
“We had to keep the ball and we had to play good defense today,” said Avery, who moved from safety to inside linebacker on defense. “We also changed some linemen today. I have to give a bunch of credit to them. I couldn’t run the ball if it wasn’t for them.”
North started the game with the ball and — after the kickoff return put them on the Keene 44-yard line — made up that ground in just 2:09 to take a quick 7-0 lead on a 21-yard touchdown run from Raisanen-Andino.
Keene answered with a 9:58, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 2-yard run from Howard to tie the game at seven.
The Titans came right back with an 80-yard touchdown drive of their own to take a 14-7 lead towards the end of the second quarter on a 6-yard run from Finlay.
The Blackbirds were putting together another long drive, but it stalled at midfield and a muffed punt gave North excellent field position with 2:18 left before the half.
But Keene’s defense made the stop — helped by a holding call that pushed the Titans back — and went to the locker room down by one score, 14-7.
Keene started with the ball in the second half but had to punt it away, and North scored on a 71-yard touchdown drive to extend its lead to 21-7.
Then Keene took over 13 minutes off the clock to drive 80 yards and score a touchdown, a 5-yard touchdown pass from junior Aidan Tarr to classmate Isaac Nelson on fourth down. After the extra point was blocked, Keene found itself down 21-13 with 4:15 left to play, a quick stop away from having another crack at the end zone.
And they almost had it.
North’s 4th down conversion followed by the long touchdown run ended any hope of a comeback.
“I’m proud of the way they played,” Patnode said. “On paper, it’s a blowout. We don’t match up, at all. … [North] scored so quickly, I thought to myself, ‘Well, it’s going to be another 50-point night,’ but the kids didn’t let that happen. I’m proud of that, and I told them that.”
Patnode was alluding to Keene’s 48-12 loss to Concord last Friday.
“When we play like we played last week, I don’t care if we win, that’s just not good football,” Patnode said. “We play decent football, and we lose a tough one, I can live with that, even though I hate losing.”
Keene (1-2) heads to Timberlane next Friday at 6:30 p.m.
“They’re going to be another hard-nosed football team,” Avery said. “We’ll get a plan in this week to spot them and we’re going to have to step it up and win this next game.”