By Dan Guttenplan Sports Editor
Newburyport Daily News
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The downside of the Newburyport football team’s Sunday night game against Winthrop last night was that, by kickoff, the game had been rendered meaningless in the hunt for the league championship.
The Clippers (6-4 overall, 3-1 CAL) played as if motivation were at a premium, falling for the first time in league play in two seasons with an 18-16 loss to the Vikings (5-5 overall 3-2 CAL) at World War Memorial Stadium.
At the end of the day, the Newburyport loss has no impact on the team’s pursuit of a back-to-back Cape Ann League/Northeastern Conference Division 3 title. The Clippers’ Thanksgiving Day matchup with Amesbury (8-2, 4-0) will determine the league champion.
“I didn’t want to back into our Thanksgiving game,” Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano said. “That’s not what we wanted to do — backdoor our way in. If we play like we did today on Thankgiving, we’ll back our way out of a season.”
The Clippers held a lead of 16-12 late in the fourth quarter when Winthrop took over at its own 27 for the final offensive possession. The Vikings engineered a 12-play, 73-yard touchdown drive, which was capped on Jordan Corbett-Frank’s 1-yard touchdown run. As was the case on each of Winthrop’s touchdowns, the extra-point attempt was botched, leaving Newburyport one last gasp for air with 52 seconds remaining.
Newburyport quarterback Connor Wile took over at his own 37 for the final possession, but was unable to move the ball past midfield before the clock expired.
“A lot of guys had chances to make plays during the course of the game to turn things around,” Gaudiano said. “Whenever we got into a situation to change the momentum, we didn’t make a play.”
Newburyport appeared primed to cruise to a 4-0 league record early in the game when it took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. The first points of the game came on Newburyport safety Colton Fontaine’s 65-yard interception return for a touchdown. Brandon Trego added a 31-yard field goal in the second quarter, and it looked as if the Clippers might roll on their home field.
However, Wile threw an interception to Winthrop’s Mike Ferrino in Newburyport territory with 1:06 remaining in the first half. Winthrop’s offense took over at the Newburyport 37-yard-line, and needed only six plays to turn the turnover into six points. Quarterback Dylan Driscoll followed his center for a 1-yard touchdown run on the final play of the first half.
Newburyport still held a 10-6 halftime lead, and seemed primed to add more points on the opening drive of the second half. An 11-play, 74-yard drive stalled at the Winthrop 18-yard-line, giving the Vikings a chance to take their first lead.
The Vikings then effectively ran the ball into the teeth of the Newburyport defense, putting together a dominant scoring drive that logged 82 yards on 16 plays and 8:01 of game time. Trailing 12-10, the Clippers responded immediately. Tyler Cusack returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, putting Newburyport ahead 16-12. Newburyport did not touch the ball again until the final minute due to another long Winthrop scoring drive.
“That’s a very good team,” said Winthrop coach Sean Driscoll. “We beat a good team. Last year was similar; it went down to the end, and we lost. We knew maybe they’d be resting for Thanksgiving. They played hard. We got their best effort.”
Winthrop’s two league losses came against Pentucket and Amesbury. Pentucket (5-5, 2-2) also has two league losses, so the champion of the CAL/NEC Division 3 will be determined at Amesbury’s Landry Stadium Thanksgiving Day.
“I’m disappointed this game wasn’t bigger,” Driscoll said. “We had a few slip-ups along the way. We have nothing to play for before Thanksgiving, so I’m happy with the effort here.”
Winthrop 18, Newburyport 16
World War Memorial Stadium, Newburyport
W — 0 6 0 12 — 18
N — 7 3 0 6 — 16
N — Colton Fontaine 65-yard interception return (Brandon Trego kick), 6:08.
N — Brandon Trego 31-yard field goal, 9:34.
W — Dylan Driscoll 1-yard run (kick failed), 0:01.
W — Driscoll 1-yard run (kick failed), 7:15.
N — Tyler Cusack 82-yard kick return, 6:57.
W — Jordan Corbett-Frank 1-yard run, 0:52.
Rushing: W — Corbett-Frank 18-48-1; Driscoll 5-17-2; Ruben Powell 7-51; David Gallo 10-65; Bo Diaz 2-9; N — Tyler Cusack 12-47; Sam Francis 6-56; Connor Wile 1-6.
Passing: W — Driscoll 4-10-68-0-2; N — Wile 7-9-47-0-1.
Receiving: W — David Capone 3-54; Corbett-Frank 1-14; N — Fontaine 5-34; Ian Michaels 1-8; Francis 1-5.