HANOVER – Ever since it joined Division II last year, the Bow High football team has played with the grit of an underdog.
From last year’s unexpected run to the championship round to last week’s upset win over No. 1 Windham to open the playoffs, the Falcons haven’t allowed rankings, playoff seeding or any of the outside noise get to them.
If there was any doubt in whether this year’s team could return to the title round at UNH, it ceased in their first-round win over undefeated Windham.
That’s how Coach Paul Cohen sees it.
“Last week was the acid test,” Cohen said. “I truly felt if we beat Windham, no one would stand in our way to get to UNH.
“Kudos to (Hanover) for playing hard, but they were not going to stop us today.”
Bow traveled north to face undefeated No. 4 Hanover and left the Upper Valley with a 19-7 win, punching its return ticket to Wildcat Stadium in Durham where the No. 8 Falcons (8-2) will play No. 2 Plymouth (10-0) for the Division II title.
This probably sounds familiar.
Bow cut a path to the championship round in similar fashion last November, upsetting Hanover on the road in the semifinals and drawing a championship bid against Plymouth. The Bobcats came away with the title, but after the game Bow running back Jack Corriveau told the Monitor to expect the Falcons to be back in 2017.
Chalk it up to confidence or impressive foresight by Corriveau. Either way, the Falcons are getting another shot, and Corriveau has played a big role in getting them there.
The senior ball carrier and linebacker rushed for a touchdown, scored a second TD off a pass from quarterback Matt Harkins, and reeled in a first-half interception that shifted momentum towards Bow’s sideline.
It wasn’t a smooth start for Corriveau as he coughed up a fumble in the first quarter, but that was long forgotten by the final horn.
“The team came around me and supported me,” Corriveau said. “We just pick each other up, forget about it and move on. We knew we had this. It was our mentality coming into this game, and it kept us in check.”
Corriveau finished with 25 carries for 150 yards, complemented by the bruising and tough running of Ben Kimball, who chipped in about 40 yards rushing and scored Bow’s first touchdown from 5 yards out. The score tied the game, 7-7, early in the second quarter after Hanover (9-1) took its only lead of the game in the first.
No matter the strength of Cohen’s stable of running backs, credit is also due to the offensive line. Corriveau made sure to highlight the impressive play of the big fellahs on a cold November afternoon.
“This game was going to be based on the trenches, and that showed,” he said. “I’m very proud of our line. I’ve just got to read their steps. If they give me that first 5 yards, I’ve got to give them 10.”
The line consistently pushed back against the Hanover defense, giving Corriveau and company some breathing room to shake tackles and make plays.
The Falcons converted 2 of 4 fourth downs and punted once. After picking off Hanover quarterback Alexander Mosenthal, Corriveau kept Bow’s drive alive with a 26-yard reception on fourth-and-9 from Hanover’s 37-yard line. Four plays later, Corriveau punched it in from 2 yards out, giving the Falcons a 13-7 lead going into halftime.
Holding the advantage at the break, Bow’s game plan was fully intact.
“What we wanted was for (Hanover) to have to play catch up, and that’s exactly what happened,” Cohen said. “I could sense every time we made a good defensive play you could see the wind being taken out of their sails a little bit more.”
The Falcons added to their lead in the fourth quarter. Harkins and Corriveau connected for a touchdown from the 9-yard line. Corriveau pulled in the pass at about the 5, shed a pair of tackles, and dug into the turf to cross the plane.
“That was a do-or-die situation,” Corriveau said. “I just knew I had to cross that end zone. Fourth down, big play and the team came together. Line gave good protection for Harkins and we just put it together.”
Bow was denied on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, settling the score at 19-7 with a shade over 10 minutes left in the game.
Hanover took over at its own 44, but a three-and-out put the ball back in Harkins’s hands and the Falcons continued feeding their backs as the clock ticked away. The drive lasted 20 plays and nearly nine minutes. Tanner Cammett handled a few carries to keep the clock moving, and defensive star Nolan Filteau rushed a couple as well.
Senior defensive back Mark Borak Jr. provided an exclamation point for the Bow defense with an interception on the Marauders’ final drive.
Like last fall’s semifinal between these teams, the game was almost entirely played on the ground. Bow and Hanover threw just 15 passes combined.
“This was going to come down to who was more physical,” Hanover Coach Sam Cavallaro said. “(Bow) really out-physicaled us. It wasn’t by a ton but it was enough for the game. It was smash-mouth football.”