By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – One Stevens High football fan approached another Friday night at Henry Emerton Field. He informed his pal that although the Cardinals’ game against Lebanon was being live-streamed, there was a fee involved for those wanting to view the NHIAA season-opening action.
“That’s a film I wouldn’t care to watch,” replied the second man glumly. It was halftime and the visitors trailed by 39 points, en route to a 59-14 loss.
Lebanon, a Division III finalist last fall, scored on each of its seven offensive drives against a team that returns only three starters. Last year’s Cardinals featured tough-as-nails running back Keegan McAllister, but he graduated, leaving a youthful roster behind.
“We have very few guys with meaningful varsity experience and eight guys start on both sides of the ball,” said Stevens coach Paul Silva, whose team rushed for minus-8 yards while allowing 332 yards on the ground.
Lebanon quarterback Jackson Stone, a junior who previously played receiver on offense, completed 3 of 6 passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. The signal-caller also returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.
Out much of last season while injured, Stone also rushed four times for 64 yards and another score, this one covering 10 yards. Cole Shambo, the Raiders’ junior transfer from Hartford, carried four times for 35 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown.
Lebanon junior Nyeoti Punni rushed four times for 35 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown and classmate C.J. Childs carried four times for 50 yards. Freshman Talan Patkul ran for an 8-yard touchdown and 42 yards overall while accepting seven handoffs.
Stevens quarterback Owen Taylor completed 5 of 9 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. The seniors was also the Cardinals’ most frequent rusher, carrying the ball 10 times for minus-3 yards. The visitors fumbled four times but recovered each.
“We hadn’t scrimmaged or had much hitting, so I’m proud of the kids for executing what we preached,” said Lebanon coach Chris Childs, whose team hosts Newport next week. “We need to get our guys in game shape. You can run ‘em all you want in practice, but it’s different to go out and actually play.”
Lebanon used six consecutive handoffs to cover 65 yards in fewer than three minutes on its first scoring drive. Shambo capped the march with his touchdown and Stone threw to Bates for the conversion and an 8-0 lead.
Stevens ran five plays and turned the ball over on downs on its ensuing possession. Punni ran 38 yards for a touchdown on the next snap, followed by another Stone pass, this one to Justin DeCarlo, for a 16-0 lead fewer than five minutes into the game.
The Cardinals ran another five plays and punted, leading to a six-play, 58-yard scoring drive for the hosts. Stone ran for his touchdown to end the march, then ran for the conversion and a 24-0 advantage.
Stevens managed five offensive plays yet again before punting a second time. Stone returned this one 75 yards and Tanner Ames booted the extra point. The scoreboard blinked to 31-0 just 33 seconds into the second quarter.
The visitors put together a nine-play scoring drive on their next possession. Taylor throwing a 10-yard pass off Bates’ hands and to Clayton Wadsworth for the touchdown. A conversion pass attempt was intercepted.
Stevens surrendered a 39-yard touchdown pass from Stone to Bates two plays later. Ames added the extra point for a 38-6 lead. Four plays later, the Raiders appeared to score on a 90-yard Shambo punt return, but C.J. Childs was penalized for a crushing, blind-side hit that brought the ball back.
Unfazed, Lebanon needed six plays to travel 91 yards and go up, 45-6, on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Stone to Bates and another Ames extra point.
The second half was played with a running clock. It was highlighted by Wadsworth’s 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and diminutive Lebanon reserve Sawyer Beaulieu crashing across the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown run.
“To me this was a win for everybody, just to be playing a tackle football game,” said Silva, whose team hosts 1-0 Hanover next week. “There are so many seniors out there across the country who can’t play right now.
“This was such a great chance to compete and I think we take that for granted. It gets lost in the talk about wins and losses, but I’m walking out of here tonight with a smile on my face.”
Notes: Stevens junior Hunter Christian, a linebacker and running back, plays ice hockey for the Lebanon-Stevens-Mount Royal cooperative team… Lebanon’s senior class is 18-13 during its time in the program… Covid-19 precautions abounded, including each team sending one captain to midfield for the pregame coin toss. Game officials did not touch the balls, which were retrieved and spotted by players with the zebras’ oversight. A hand sanitizer station stood on the home sideline and the teams walked out to midfield and waved at each other instead of conducing a postgame handshake.
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