Astro Gridders Drop Second Straight Decision at Home

Just a few weeks ago, the Pinkerton Academy football squad was contemplating putting together a second straight undefeated Division I championship season.

But since their 5-0 start the Astros have suffered consecutive losses – on their home field – to two opponents. The second of those took place Friday night, Oct. 16, when the Timberlane Owls from Plaistow rolled into Derry and rode away with a 31-28 win over the defending D-I champions.

The defeat bounced PA out of first place in the South Division, with Timberlane, Pinkerton, and Salem all holding 5-2 records.

The Owls gained the tie-breaker should they and Pinkerton end up with the same record by beating PA, but Salem holds the tie-breaker over Timberlane if those squads end up with identical records.

With losses to Winnacunnet and Timberlane each of the last two weeks, Pinkerton sits in the unfamiliar position of possibly failing to reach the playoffs for the first time in years.

They have two contests left in their regular season – both road games on the seacoast – against the Dover High Green Wave (1-6) and the unbeaten Exeter High Blue Hawks.

“We have to win our next two games to make the playoffs,” said PA coach Brian  O’Reilly moments after the Timberlane loss. “That may not be mathematically correct, but realistically it’s what has to happen.”

When asked whether or not he thinks his charges have the character to rebound from the Winnacunnet and Timberlane losses and salvage a shot at repeating as D-I champs, O’Reilly responded, “It doesn’t matter whether I think they can or not, they’ve got the chance to show if they can.”

The Timberlane defeat featured a harrowing and rather sloppy second half from the hosts, who rolled into the third quarter with a 21-17 advantage.

The hosts began the evening by showing the Owls that they were up to any challenge that opponent – which started the night with a 4-2 record and having won four of its last five games and two in a row – could put forth.

The Astros tallied the first 14 points on a 21-yard pass connection from quarterback Ryan Albrecht to senior James Tulley, followed by a 56-yard touchdown toss featuring that same duo in the same roles.

Timberlane then put together a drive that consisted of eight plays in a little less than four minutes and culminated with a 6-yard scoring run that made the score 14-7 with 36.5 seconds to go in the first period.

However, the Astros got those points back with an answering drive that covered 80 yards in about four minutes and ended with running back Mike Curley’s 4-yard push to pay-dirt.

The Owls sliced their deficit back to seven points at 21-14 with a seven-play drive featuring the considerable talents of senior quarterback Jason Hughes and sophomore back Jake Post, who both played huge roles in the visiting team’s victory on this night.

Hughes scored on a 23-yard keeper on the drive in question, and with 5:48 left in the already-eventful half, it was a 21-14 contest.

But from that point on turnovers would play a huge part in Pinkerton’s downfall on this evening, as a promising offensive drive ended on a fumble at the Timberlane 36 with 1:28 left in the half.

And the Owls would make that turnover sting by tallying three more points on a jaw-dropping, 42-yard field goal by Hughes with mere seconds to go in the half, and thus the two teams adjourned to their locker rooms with the score sitting at 21-17 in the hosts’ favor.

The halftime stats favored Pinkerton significantly as the hosts had 109 rushing yards and 167 passing yards for a total of 276 yards worth of offense. Timberlane had 179 offensive yards, with 126 of those coming via the ground game.

The Owls would begin the second half with a long, but ultimately frustrating offensive series that chewed up 7:21 of the third quarter but fell short of points, thanks to defensive heroics of Pinkerton’s James Tulley.

Tulley blocked a pass attempt on a third-and-goal situation, and then when Timberlane attempted a 27-yard field goal on fourth down, Tulley blocked that too to stifle a couple of stellar scoring chances for the visitors.

The Owls scored points on their next offensive series, scoring on a 5-yard run by Post at the tail-end of a 16-play drive that took more than seven minutes and left Timberlane with a 24-21 lead with just 4:46 left in the game.

The momentum swung back Pinkerton’s way just a moment later on another long pass play from Albrecht to Tulley, which sat the Astros at the Owls’ 28. But on the next play the hosts fumbled the ball away into the end zone – with Timberlane recovering – with 3:59 left on the clock.

The Owls managed to chew up some time with another offensive series, but that ended with a punt that pinned PA back on its own 9. And on the next play from scrimmage, Owls linebacker Travis Hall picked off a pass just inside the 30-yard-line and ran the ball into the end zone to give his squad a 31-21 lead with just 1:42 left.

However, with the situation looking worse than dire for PA, junior Nico Buccieri picked the ensuing kickoff off the grass and ran the ball back 70 yards for a score that got the hosts back to within three points of the lead at 31-28 with 1:29 remaining.

But Pinkerton’s attempt to get the ball back on an on-side kick failed, and the Owls were able to run out the remaining time.

Tulley finished the night with 165 receiving yards and two touchdowns on four receptions, 25 yards rushing, and several defensive plays. Quarterback Albrecht threw for 235 yards and two scores.

Timberlane veteran quarterback Hughes finished his evening with some 96 yards rushing with a touchdown, a total of 121 yards passing, one long field goal, and loads of reasons to be pleased with his effort. And Jake Post – who was the Owls’ go-to guy in so many big situations in the game – ended up with 69 receiving yards on six grabs, and 55 rushing yards on seven carries with a score.