CONWAY — The Kennett High football team traveled home from Wolfeboro after beating rival Kingswood 29-14 on Friday night with three things — the prestigious Carroll County Championship Trophy, bragging rights and the opportunity to host a Division II playoff game this week.
With the win, which lifted the Eagles to 7-2 on the season, the hometown flock landed in the No. 4 seed for the Division II playoffs. KHS will host fifth-seeded Hollis-Brookline (7-2) in the quarterfinals at Gary Millen Stadium this Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Vaughn Beckwith, Eagles’ head coach. “We earned it. We’re looking forward to another opportunity to play at home.”
The Eagles and Cavaliers did not meet during the regular season with Hollis-Brookline playing in the South and KHS in the North. Both teams did play Milford (8-1, seeded No. 2) during the fall and were on the short end of scorelines. Hollis-Brookline fell 35-21 at Milford on Sept. 6, while Kennett lost 42-21 at home to the Spartans on Oct. 11.
The Cavaliers have been one of the most high-powered offenses in the division this season, scoring over 48 points in six games. They have outscored their opponents 367-133.
“Hollis-Brookline is a very talented football team,” Beckwith said. “They’ve got a quarterback (senior Sander Wimmer) who can play — throw or run. We’ve watched five or six of their games and I think there were only three or four times where he was tackled by one guy."
He added: “We’re going to have our hands full, but we’ve got to play our game and not give up a lot of penalties. Our goal will be to try to confuse (Wimmer) at the line (of scrimmage) and put pressure on him. If we want to make him uncomfortable, we've got to bring the pressure.”
Kennett had outscored its opponents 248-146.
Friday’s regular-season finale was a windy night in Wolfeboro. Whichever team had the wind at its back had a decided advantage, especially in the first half. Just one pass was attempted into the wind in the opening 24 minutes.
Kennett went against the wind in the first quarter but moved the ball well on the ground after a stellar 35-yard kickoff return by senior Russell Chick gave the boys from Conway the ball at midfield. The Eagles drove to the Kingswood 17-yard line where they faced fourth-and-seven. Senior Dom Jones went around the right end and was stopped just inches short, giving the Knights the football.
Kingswood (3-6), with a senior-laden team, mixed things up by alternating quarterbacks with senior Austin Perkins and Jackson McCullough giving the Kennett defense a different look. The Knights used 12 plays to go 88 yards to the land of six with junior Devan Wade capping the drive with a 12-yard run untouched around the left end with 39 seconds left in the first quarter.
Brian Winn added the extra point to put the hosts in front 7-0 and had them believing Kennett’s win streak would halt at 12 in this rivalry.
Kennett, behind another strong 28-yard return by Chick, got the ball at its own 39. The Knights tried to pin the Eagles against the wind by using all three of their timeouts in the first frame.
Kennett, however, was able to move the ball and eat the remainder of the quarter to get the wind at its back. On the opening play of the second quarter, Parker Coleman hit Tanner Bennett on an 8-yard pass play down to the Kingswood 36. Coleman connected with senior Justin Olson on a key fourth-and-five pass for 6 yards to move the chains to the Knights’ 25. Six plays later, Coleman scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The snap was bobbled on the extra point. Jones scooped up the ball and attempted to run it in for a two-point conversion but was stopped just shy of the goal line.
Kennett trailed 7-6 with 6:14 left in the first half.
Kingswood was able to drive to the Kennett 29-yard line but turned the ball over on downs when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
Kennett got the ball back with 2:06 to play in the quarter and wasted little time finding pay dirt. After two Bennett runs gained a total of 5 yards, Jones turned in the run of the night with a 53-yard run in which he hurdled a Knight on his way to the Kingswood 12 yard-line.
On the next play, Bennett went around the left end untouched for a TD. Senior Braeden Bailey booted the extra point to put Kennett up 12-7 with just 49 ticks left in the half.
The wind died down considerably at halftime, but Kennett carried its second-quarter momentum into a strong third-quarter performance in which it outscored the Knights 10-0.
“I thought we played some really good football in the third quarter,” Beckwith said.
Kennett bottled up Kingswood on its first series of the third quarter. After an incomplete pass, sophomore TJ Holland had a sack for minus 10 yards. Jones, who moved from linebacker to defensive end, followed with a tackle for a loss of 6 yards, forcing Kingswood to punt.
“Moving Dom to end was an adjustment we made going into this week,” Beckwith said. “We knew we were going to play a 5-3 (defense) and wanted to get our 11 best players on the field.”
Kennett, going against a milder wind, got the ball at its 24-yard line. The Kennett offensive line — Will Eaton and Heath Woodward at tackles, Kyle Stearns at center, Braden Santuccio and Cody Eastman at guards and Trevor LaRusso at tight-end — opened up big holes in the second half for Bennett and Jones. Both running backs gained over 100 yards on the ground. Bennett had 25 carries for 133 yards, and Jones had 8 rushes for 117 yards.
The Kennett drive, aided by two Kingswood personal fouls, stopped at the 4-yard lie, but Bailey kicked a 21-yard field goal to put the Eagles in front 15-7 with 7:56 left in the third period.
Kennett found the end zone on its next possession, driving 87 yards on 10 plays, calumniating with Olson becoming the favorite for the catch of the season with an incredible one-handed grab of a perfect fade pass from Coleman for a 5-yard touchdown.
Tony Memia captured the play and reaction to the catch is priceless. See it here at tinyurl.com/yydrf5ow.
“Justin’s catch was pretty impressive,” Beckwith said. “It was on WMUR (Channel 9 on Saturday). Tony’s commentary added to the excitement, making it even more fun to watch.”
Bailey’s extra point put Kennett up 22-7 with 22 seconds left in the quarter.
The Eagles found the end zone again on their next possession, going 57 yards on five plays with Coleman connecting with Jack Wheeler on the final 10 yards on a fade route for a TD. Bailey’s extra point extended the lead to 29-7 with 9:53 to play.
Coleman was 5-7 for 35 yards and two touchdowns through the air and had three runs for 15 yards and another score.
Kingswood closed out the scoring with a 1-yard dive by McCullough and a successful Winn PAT with 2:58 to play.
Seniors Russell Chick, Jack Wheeler, Braeden Bailey, Malik Memia, Austin Parker, Ethan Ouellette, Jackson Ogren and captains Dom Jones, Justin Olson, Will Eaton, and Trevor LaRusso were all on the field for the final snap of the game and were all smiles receiving the Carroll County Trophy.
“This senior group has been a lot of fun working with them over the past four years,” Beckwith said. “I’ve been very impressed with the growth they’ve shown. Our captains have done a great job. Trevor and Will lead by example. We knew Dom was going to be a player and a leader when he came in as a freshman. Justin has developed into a football player and has taken his leadership to another level — he talks the talk and walks the walk. The kids look up to Will, Dom, Trevor and Justin and know what it takes to be a leader."
In other playoff matchups, No. 1 Bow (9-0) will host No. 8 Souhegan (5-4); No. 2 Milford (8-1) hosts No. 7 Alvirne (6-3); and No. 3 Pelham (7-2) hosts No. 6 Plymouth (7-2, the three-time defending champs).
The semifinals are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. at the site of the highest remaining seed.
The Division II finals are slated for Sunday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. at the University of New Hampshire.