The Pinkerton Academy football squad advanced toward its 2015 goal and gained a chunk of revenge as well by defeating the Timberlane Regional Owls by a 23-17 tally in Division I South/East bracket quarterfinal-round playoff action in Derry last Saturday, Nov. 7.
The Owls had defeated Pinkerton 31-28 in Derry during the regular season in mid-October, a fact the local gridders had in mind as Timberlane returned to Derry to try to bag a second – and even more important – victory.
The rematch proved to be a bit harrowing for the defending D-I champions from PA and their fans down the stretch, despite the fact that the Astros drove out to a 13-0 lead and never lost the upper hand. The fourth-ranked Owls chipped their deficit down to six points at 23-17 with a little less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but never got any closer.
The top-seeded academy gridders will now play a semifinal-round playoff contest against second-ranked Exeter in Derry Saturday, Nov. 14, at 1 p.m.
The Astros narrowly edged the Blue Hawks in the final minutes of their regular season-ending game a few weeks ago to qualify for the 2015 playoffs.
The academy side tallied touchdowns on each of its first two offensive possessions, giving initial indications that a blowout might be in the offing.
It became a 6-0 game less than four minutes after the opening kickoff when Pinkerton running back Brett Dattilo sprinted 15 yards to pay-dirt to close out a seven-play drive.
After the Timberlane offense sputtered in its own territory, the Astros had the ball back and commenced a five-play drive that culminated with a 13-yard scoring pass from Ryan Albrecht to James Tulley that made the score 13-0 in the hosts’ favor with 2:50 left in quarter one.
But the Owls managed to trim their deficit down to 13-7 in the opening seconds of the second period by putting the final touches on a seven-play drive.
The Astros rolled their lead up to 20-7, thanks to an 8-yard scoring sprint by Nico Buccieri with just 1:50 left in the half, but the visitors were able to respond with an 11-play drive that produced another touchdown as time expired in the half and left the score at 20-14 in Pinkerton’s favor.
It looked as though the defenses would run the show in the second half, as neither offense was able to get out of its own way through much of quarter number three. And turnovers came fast and furious at the start of the fourth quarter, with each side fumbling the football away deep in Timberlane territory and then Owls’ standout senior quarterback Jason Hughes chucking up a pass interception to Astro linebacker Joey Lydick to set up PA at the Owls’ 11 with 10:15 to go in the game.
Pinkerton wound up settling for an 18-yard field goal from Kyle Cantalupo to make the score 23-14, and the visitors suddenly needed two scores to keep their 2015 season alive.
A great run-back on the subsequent kick-off placed the Owls at the Pinkerton 26, and the visitors wound up getting a big, 41-yard field goal from Hughes with 6:57 left in the game to make it a 23-17 game.
But the Astros chopped more than four vital minutes off the clock and appeared to have the game all but won with 1:59 left as standout kicker Cantalupo lined up a 30-yard field goal and, to everyone’s surprise, had it sail wide left of the uprights to leave Timberlane contemplating a comeback victory.
“I thought we could put it away with the field goal,” said PA coach Brian O’Reilly, who admitted that Cantalupo had an odd angle at which to kick with the alignment of the football the offense left him. “You have an all-state kicker with a kick he’ll almost always make, and if that same situation occurs again, I’ll do the same thing again, no question.”
Left with a little less than two minutes to save its season and its title hopes, Timberlane got the ball as far as the Astros’ 29 before Hughes tossed a handful of incomplete passes and Pinkerton got the ball back on downs with just 19.4 seconds remaining on the clock.