By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021

HANOVER – No weighty tools were hoisted in the Hanover High football team’s postgame huddle this time. Not after Milford invaded Merriman-Branch Field on Friday and turned what was a tight NHIAA Division II game at halftime into a 34-7 whipping. 

The Marauders pride themselves on “pounding the rock” and break out a sledge hammer for joyous swings at the turf when they prevail. The Spartans however, began the second half with a long touchdown drive before recovering a fumble and scoring two plays later. The visitors recovered another fumble soon after that.

Milford drove for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead as the third quarter closed, leaving Hanover looking hesitant at best and intimidated at worst. The Spartans attempted only three passes and otherwise ran over, past and around flailing defenders. 

“Our guys just didn’t come out for the second half,” said Hanover coach Sam Cavallaro, whose team fell to 5-1. “We made two stupid, back-to-back fumbles that put our defense in a hole.

“This was a level of team we hadn’t played yet, but you have to learn from it and not let it define your season.”

Hanover outscored its first five opponents, 162-58, with its starters often not playing the fourth quarter. Milford (5-1), which kept powerful Lebanon close during its lone loss, was physical to begin Friday and upped its head-banging ways after intermission.

“I was optimistic after the way we played in the first half, but we have to be able to play the whole game like that,” Cavallaro said. “Our kids were probably as tired as they’ve ever been after the first half, like ‘Holy cow, I feel like I usually do after a game.’ And then our start to the second half…”

Hanover opened the scoring by driving 66 yards in 13 plays on its second possession and reaching the end zone when quarterback Colin Pierce bulled home from a yard. Pierce completed two of his three pass attempts during the march, for 12 and 21 yards, and Brendan Logan booted the extra point.

Milford went up, 8-7, by driving 72 yards in 11 plays. Big back Caden Zalenski ran 22 yards for the touchdown and Chris Cotsifas scooted for the conversation points. 

The visitors marched 78 yards in eight plays to begin the third quarter, scoring when Logan Barnhill took an option pitch from elusive quarterback Chuck Urda and broke two attempted tackles en route to a 27-yard touchdown. Urda ran for the 2-point conversion and a 16-7 lead four minutes into the second half.

Pierce lost a fumble on the next snap and Urda ran 45 yards for a touchdown and a 22-7 advantage two plays later. 

Hanover’s next snap resulted in Pierce attempting to throw to Logan in the flat, but the pass turned into a bouncer behind the line of scrimmage and Urda recovered. Any spirit left on the home sideline almost visibly evaporated.

“It’s a double pass that we run all the time in practice, but he just threw it into the ground,” Cavallaro said, wearing a perplexed expression. “We told the kids they have to reset themselves.”

Hanover visits a solid Souhegan squad next week before returning to host arch-rival Hanover, which stomped the Marauders on back-to-back weeks last season, the latter during a playoff game. The Raiders’ scheduled trip to Bow on Saturday was canceled because of Covid-19 issues within the Falcons program. 

Hanover was outgained Friday, 256 yards to 147. Jeffrey Vidou carried eight times for 41 yards before exiting with a second-half injury and an ice bag on his neck. Seamus Murphy managed just 22 yards in 11 carries. 

Pierce completed 2 of 8 pass attempts for 33 yards and ran six times for 12 yards and a touchdown. Murphy and Logan each caught two passes for a combined 32 yards. Roger Lucas completed 5 of 8 pass attempts for 44 yards and had two tosses intercepted.

Milford’s Urda completed 2 of 3 pass attempts for 39 yards and rushed six times for 32 yards and a touchdown. Zalenski carried 11 times for 65 yards and four touchdowns and Barnhill took nine handoffs and gained 28 yards.

Notes: Marauders player Taj Bagnato is the grandson of former Hanover High principal Uwe Bagnato… The public-address announcer, clever but sounding a bit too pleased with his wit, thanked fans for coming out and “showing that biggest thing in New England sports other than the Boston Red Sox is Hanover High football.”… The national anthem was beautifully sung by Katie Bucci, mother of Hanover player Josh Bucci… The home student section, inspired by its team’s neutral uniforms, repeatedly chanted “Hey, hey, Gray, whaddya say?”… Marauders defensive coordinator Mike Ivanoski, a man of substantial size and ferocity, wore Crocs foam clogs while pacing the sidelines… John Hanchett, father of current Hanover lineman Montana Hanchett and former player Dakota Hanchett, tended the snack bar grille Friday, an immense, bearded man in overalls. “You don’t know what you’re missing,” the proprietor of Hanchett Land Management and Saw Milling said to a customer who elected for a single cheeseburger over the double version.

If you found this story worthwhile, please consider donating to support the work that produced it. 

Octopus Athletics is an independent site covering sports in the heart of the Upper Valley. Your contributions allow us to bring you news without paywalls or pop-up ads.