By David Willis
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Each time Bedford threw what seemed to be a knockout punch, Pentucket fought back.
Bedford twice drove inside the Pentucket 15-yard-line in the fourth quarter, and twice the Sachems turned the Buccaneers away without points to force the game into overtime.
Then, in the extra frame, Pentucket stifled the Bucs on three straight downs to force a fourth-and-10.
Bedford, however, found that last big play, completing a screen play for a touchdown, and the Sachems could not respond, falling to the Buccaneers 22-14 in the Division 4 North finals yesterday.
“This is very tough,” said Pentucket coach Steve Hayden. “One of the toughest losses I have experienced. That is a very good football team, but we played very well. We battled, but they found a way to beat us.”
Bedford now advances to the Division 4 state semifinals, while the Sachems refocus on their traditional Thanksgiving Day meeting with Triton.
“That is the best team that we have played all year,” said Buccaneers coach Jack Belcher. “They smacked us. We usually wear teams out and take over in the second half, and we couldn’t do that today. You can see why coach Hayden and this program have had so much success.”
It was the Sachems that started the game with a bang. After the opening drive of the game stalled at the Bedford 2-yard line, Pentucket grabbed the lead later in the quarter when Jeff Porter broke free for a 73-yard touchdown run.
Bedford struck back in the second to tie the game, but that did not last long.
Porter (14 carries, 139 yards) fielded the following kickoff and ran it back 82 yards for his second touchdown of the game and a 14-7 lead.
It appeared that advantage would hold up into halftime, but the Sachems were flagged for a late, questionable pass interference call that Bedford turned into a touchdown with 1:12 to go before the break.
The first half proved costly for Pentucket, which had already lost top offensive lineman and linebacker Chris Croteau to a shoulder injury when leading rusher and top defensive back D.J. Engelke also went down with a shoulder injury he had battled throughout the season. He did not return.
The Buccaneers then opened the second half with an epic, 18-play drive that ate up the entire third quarter and lasted into the fourth that went to the Sachem 11-yard line.
But on fourth-and-1, running back Olan Abner was stopped in his tracks for a 1-yard loss by defensive back Liam Corkery.
Pentucket was then held to a three-and-out, and once again Bedford drove into the red zone, advancing to the Sachems’ 14-yard-line.
But the Green and White held again, when back Mike Hayes was stopped a yard short of the first down marker by a host of Sachem tacklers for a second straight turnover on downs, this time with just over two minutes left in regulation.
“We can usually beat teams up,” said Belcher, a former Los Angeles Rams draft pick. “The momentum was ours in the second half and a lot of teams will fold there. But they obviously didn’t. If we could have executed a fourth down, the game would have been different. But they wouldn’t let us.”
The Sachems managed a drive to close the half, with Porter running seven out of eight plays to the Bedford 46-yard line before two passes fell short to send the game into overtime.
Bedford had the ball first in the extra frame. On first down, the Sachems’ Luke Strangman stopped Mike McDonald on a short gain, then after an incomplete pass Josh Wesolowski, Ryan Kuchar and Sean Clohisy combined to stop Abner for a loss.
But on up fourth-and-10, Bucs QB Joey Zampell — who had not completed a pass since the first half — set up Abner for a middle screen and the back eluded tacklers into the end zone.
The Sachems took over, but Kuchar was sacked on first and second down, and a desperation pass on fourth down fell incomplete.
“We fought them the whole game,” said Hayden. “(Abner) is a terrific player, and we held him in check. We lost some key players and we continued to battle. The defense did a great job. This is a tough one.
“When you lose something in life, it hurts. But later on hopefully we will look at it and see we did something most people thought we couldn’t.”
Bedford 22, Pentucket 14
Division 4 North final
Bedford (8-1): 0 14 0 0 8 — 22
Pentucket (7-2): 7 7 0 0 0 — 14
P — Jeff Porter 73 run (Nick Zaia kick), 0:42
B — Olan Abner 3 run (Branson Leonard kick), 3:15
P — Porter 83 kickoff return (Zaia kick), 3:04
B — Dan Fay 26 pass from Joey Zampell (Leonard kick), 1:12
B — Abner 10 pass from Zampell (Abner kick)
RUSHING: P (32-183) — Jeff Porter 14-139, Andrew Noyes 11-37, D.J. Engelke 2-12, Luke Strangman 1-(-1), Ryan Kuchar 4-(-4); B (49-173) — Olan Abner 31-129, Mike Hayes 7-14, Mike McDonald 5-17, Joey Zampell 6-13
PASSING: P — Kuchar 2-10-2, 44; B — Zampell 3-6-0, 44
RECEIVING: P — Liam Corkery 2-44; B — McDonald 2-34, Abner 1-10