Salem Blue Devils Football '06

Sat, Nov 18, 2006 07:00 PM @ Pinkerton
Team Final
Playoff Game
Salem 7
Pinkerton 27
Pinkerton's Mike LaRocque is tackled just before the goal line by Salem's Harold Landers on Saturday during the state final in Derry. » Jarrod Thompson, Staff Photographer

Astros follow recipe for another title

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Monday, August, 27 By Matt Langone
Staff writer

DERRY | All season long, the recipe for Pinkerton's success has been to score early and often, and then watch its opponents struggle to play catch-up.

The Astros once again executed that strategy en route to a dominating 27-7 victory over Salem in the Division 1 state championship yesterday before a crowd of about 3,000 fans. It is the second consecutive state crown for the Astros, who also finished their remarkable season with a perfect 12-0 record.

For Salem, it was the second straight year of losing to Pinkerton in the Division 1 final. But this year's contest featured a lot more offense than last year's gritty 7-0 Astros victory. It was also a lot more lopsided.

Pinkerton scored 19 first-quarter points, despite the fact that Salem made a concerted effort to shut down the pass. On their opening drive, the Astros set the tone by executing a 12-play drive that was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run by Bobby Dattilo.

The Astros ran the ball 10 times during the drive, led by junior Mike LaRocque (13 rushes, 121 yards), who had a brilliant game filling in for Jeff Ragoza. Ragoza was banged up in practice and limited to defense.

Four minutes later, Pinkerton drove down and got another score courtesy of a 1-yard TD run from quarterback Bryan Farris (3 for 6, 117 yards passing), which increased the lead to 12-0.

"We have a great team and it's one of the best team-oriented squads I've ever had," said Pinkerton head coach Brian O'Reilly, who captured his eighth state championship at Pinkerton. "We have great diversity in our offense, a big defensive line and active linebackers that can shut down other team's running attacks."

The Astros defense did indeed shut down Salem in the first frame and carried a 19-0 lead into the second quarter. It was a deficit that obviously proved to be too wide for the mainly run-oriented Salem offense.

"We evaluated our opponents this year and we didn't think that any of them had a great passing attack to allow them to get back in the game," said O'Reilly, whose team beat Salem 41-10 earlier in the year. "So we have been able to keep nine guys in the box all year long."

Ironically, it was a special teams play that was perhaps the biggest play of the game for Pinkerton.

With less than 20 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Salem was punting near its own 20-yard line. A mistake on the left side of the Blue Devils line allowed Pinkerton senior Jake White to have a clear path to the punter. White seized the moment and blocked the punt, and Dana MacLeod then rushed to the ball, scooped it up and took it in for a touchdown.

"Usually Mike LaRocque is the guy that gets in on the punts," said White, who also played terrific in the Astros secondary. "I was basically supposed to just occupy people, but their line just went to block Mike and I came in untouched."

Salem played its best football in the second quarter, as it got its only score on a 5-yard halfback option pass. Junior Shane McMahon took a pitch and then found fellow halfback Kevin Sledge wide open in the end zone. The Blue Devils' defense also stepped up and held the Astros scoreless in the period.

"I thought our team played some outstanding defense," said Salem coach Jack Gati, whose team finished 8-4. "If the blocked punt doesn't happen, it's only a two touchdown game. "We were prepared for the game and there's nothing to be embarrassed about. Pinkerton is just a good, well-coached football team."

While the bulk of the game's scoring came in the first half, the most exciting play undoubtedly occurred in the third quarter.

After being held to three-and-outs on their first two possessions of the third quarter, the Astros decided to take a chance even though they were backed up to their own 4-yard line.

Farris, who was sacked five times, dropped back to pass and noticed one-on-one coverage on standout receiver Juan Amador. The speedy senior ran a slant route and broke to the middle of the field where Farris hit him perfectly on stride with a bullet pass. The end result was a 96-yard TD with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.

"Being down on your goal line just shortens up your playbook," said O'Reilly. "There's only so much you can do, and I got so frustrated that I just decided to throw the ball. But I didn't expect that kind of play."

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