PELHAM – A late offensive push by the Monadnock Regional High School football team was not enough to take down the top-seeded and undefeated Pelham Pythons on Saturday in the NHIAA Division III semifinal.
Monadnock was knocking on the door late against Pelham, something that hasn’t been done all year, but ultimately the Pythons held on for the 14-10 victory to punch their ticket to the finals.
“I thought our kids battled,” said Monadnock head coach Ryan Avery. “The first half we were a little slow to start with, and it put us in a little bit of a hole, but I’m proud of how they responded in the second half. We battled and we made it a game. We had a chance to win it.”
Saturday’s loss marked the final game for the seven Monadnock seniors.
“This really became my family,” said senior quarterback Nate Doyle, with tears in his eyes. “Seeing all these people develop as players and as human beings – I feel honored to be able to play with these young men.
“I’m glad I got to be a part of the program for six years,” Doyle added.
“We’re all brothers here,” said senior Justin Joslyn, who scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to bring the Huskies within striking distance. “We work together, and they just became my family for the past four years.”
The Huskies are only the second team all season to score against the Pythons.
“(Pelham) has been shutting people out every week,” Ryan said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to score points. Every drive mattered, every down mattered, and (the seniors) really stepped up.”
Doyle threw for 64 yards and Joslyn finished with 81 rushing yards, 59 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown.
Not only has Pelham been shutting teams out, but they averaged nearly 34 points per game before Saturday, including a 35-0 win over Campbell in the first round of the playoffs. Monadnock made sure Saturday was not a typical night for Pelham’s explosive offense.
It was two big touchdown runs, a 61-yard score from Pelham senior Jake Herrling in the first quarter and an 82-yard run from junior Kevin Bodenrader in the fourth, that put Pelham over the top.
“The way we play defense, it’s either a negative play or, if a guy doesn’t do his job, it’s a big one,” Ryan said. “It’s a risky defense. It pays off more times than not and they snuck a couple of big plays on us and that was the difference in the game.”
Those two touchdown runs accounted for 143 of Pelham’s 163 total yards.
Down 14-2 late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies needed a big play and Joslyn came through. A 59-yard catch and run from the senior put Monadnock inside the Pelham five-yard line with 4:37 on the clock. A few plays later, Joslyn punched it in, and the Huskies converted on the two-point conversion to bring the score to 14-10.
“I was just trying to play my heart out the best I can,” Joslyn said. “We all were at the end there.”
All of Monadnock’s points came in the second half. A long offensive drive by the Huskies early in the third quarter flipped field position in Monadnock’s favor and ultimately led to a safety to put the Huskies on the board. The defense continued to do their part and Doyle and Joslyn took over the offense in the second half.
“I challenged them at halftime: Either we can get on the bus and go home, or we can fight until the end,” Ryan said. “And they stepped up to the challenge. We were able to start finding some creases here and there and move the ball, (and that) put us in a position to win the football game.
“Nate did a good job trying to general the offense there on those last two drives, helping us out where we could run the ball and where we couldn’t,” Ryan added. “It paid off, just a little short.”
Doyle led the offense on some crucial late drives to keep the score tight, but it wasn’t quite enough to get the victory.
“The way we played in the second half should’ve been the way we came out in the first half,” Doyle said. “We just fell asleep the first half. But that second half is Monadnock football.”
After Joslyn’s touchdown and a failed onside kick, Pelham got the ball back with 2:51 left on the clock. The Pythons got the first downs they needed to run out the clock and secure their spot in the state title game.
Pelham will face Stevens High School for the DIII title on Sat. Nov. 14. Time and location are still to be determined.