Clutch Defense Pushes PA Football To Third Victory

It’s not all that common for Pinkerton Academy’s veteran football coach Brian O’Reilly to be effusive about something his team does. But the Astros’ mentor had a good reason to be a bit over the top with his praise for his squad’s defense after its dramatic, 14-7 edging of the previously unbeaten Salem High Blue Devils in Derry last Saturday night, Sept. 20.

All of the game’s points were scored in the first half, and the Pinkerton defense was forced to come up huge during the second half in order to enable its team to move its 2014 record up to a perfect 3-0.

“That’s as good a defensive job as we have done in years,” said O’Reilly. “When it mattered, when the ball was in the red zone, we made the plays we had to make.”

Trailing by a touchdown during the second half, the now 2-1 Blue Devils got inside the Astro’s 10-yard-line three of the four times they possessed the football during the third and fourth periods. But the PA defense exemplified what it means to bend but not break, keeping the visitors scoreless all the way in bagging the impressive and intense win in front of a homecoming crowd of several thousand people.

The win was, however, quite costly for the academy crew. Standout junior running back/defensive back T.J. Urbanik was knocked out of the contest by a shoulder injury during his team’s second offensive series. And versatile sophomore Nick Coombs, who also plays those two positions, suffered an ankle injury while making a huge defensive play during the second half and wound up the night on crutches and with a big ice bag taped to his right ankle.

“This (victory) is a good character builder, and it’s a ‘W’. Now we have to deal with what’s left,” added O’Reilly.

The Astros notched their first points of the evening during that second offensive series, as quarterback Jack Hanaway sprinted seven yards to pay-dirt to cap off an eight-play drive that covered some 70 yards in 2:23.

And the PA advantage grew to 14-0 with 6:37 left in the second quarter as the hosts took full advantage of a Salem turnover.

The Blue Devils were working to move the football out from inside their own 10-yard-line when they fumbled the ball away. So the Astros set up their offense on the Devils’ 15, and senior co-captain Jason Hansen covered all of those yards on a single sprint up the middle of the field.

But the visitors trimmed their deficit back by seven points in the next four minutes by putting together an eight-play drive that produced a 2-yard scoring run, and the score moved to the 14-7 tally, right where it would end up at the close of the game.

The offensive numbers for the two teams wound up extremely close at halftime, with Pinkerton notching 146 yards on 98 rushing and 48 passing, and Salem tallying 138 yards on 77 passing and 61 rushing.

But with offensive stalwart Urbanik out of uniform and several running backs trying in vain to take his place, the Pinkerton offense sputtered in the second half while Salem surged.

The Blue Devils tallied 173 offensive yards in the second half while their hosts collected a mere 35. But the Pinkerton defense kept the visitors out of the end zone during the third and fourth periods to preserve the tough victory.

On their first offensive series of the second half, the Blue Devils missed a 27-yard field goal. On their second series, they turned the football over on downs at the PA 16.

On their third series, the visitors got to the Astros’ 4 but Coombs kept Blue Devil rusher Johnny Bartos from going into the end zone on the play on which Coombs injured his ankle.

And later in the fourth quarter – with the game on the line and Salem facing a third down and goal situation from the Pinkerton 9 – the Blue Devils got eight yards on a pass play to Kenny Calabrese, but PA defensive back Tyler Gendron tackled Calabrese at the 1 and kept the Salem player from rolling into the end zone.

While the Salem players and fans left Derry feeling  disappointed, nobody among the thousands in attendance that night had any reason to think they hadn’t gotten their attendance money’s worth.