By Tris Wykes
BOW, N.H. – C.J. Childs pulled at the football Saturday morning and felt it shift in the arms of Bow High running back Andrew Robbins. In the midst of a moving scrum, the Lebanon linebacker yanked on the pigskin again and this time it popped free, coming away from the Falcon’s body and into Childs’ hands.
Momentum carried Robbins and the rest of the pile away and Childs spun and was sprinting for the opposite goal line before almost anyone realized what was occurring. Bow’s Alex Boisvert gave chase but Childs was gone, running 51 yards to the end zone during a game-turning play.
“Nobody knew at all what happened,” said Childs, whose grab was aided by Jon Carrier’s punch on the ball. Robbins “tried to tackle me in the beginning, but everyone else thought the ball was down.”
Childs’ strip-and-sprint sequence put his team ahead by 13 points just before halftime, en route to a 30-6 victory in an NHIAA Division II quarterfinal that kicked off at 10 a.m. By noon, the Raiders had reservations to face Plymouth in the next round with details to be determined Sunday.
Lebanon gained only 152 rushing yards and 71 through the air, but the Raiders held Bow to 37 yards rushing and 16 passing, while scoring on Childs’ return and a safety. The Falcons’ touchdown came late and with the visitors’ defense featuring several reserves.
“Our defense, we like to call it the best in the state,” Childs said. “We plugged (Bow) up a lot today with blitzing. We didn’t always get through, but they couldn’t make a hole through us. (Robbins) is a big boy and a good player and we had to get low and make him go side to side instead of north-south.”
Said 14th-year head coach Chris Childs: “Defense is what we’ve hung our hat on all year. It carries us and we hope we can get enough offense to win the game.”
Lebanon marched 57 yards in seven plays on the game’s opening possession. Quarterback Jack Stone swept right for 8 yards and a touchdown. Tanner Ames booted the extra point for a 7-0 lead in the fourth minute.
There were only 59 seconds remaining in the half when C.J. Childs stripped Robbins and scored. Ames missed the extra point and the Raiders led, 13-0.
“They were struggling against us offensively, so to get up two touchdowns on an offense that likes to pound the ball, it definitely changes their play calling,” said Chris Childs, C.J.’s father. “We want (running backs) to have to move laterally against us. If they have to go outside, our speed gives us the advantage for sure.”
Lebanon (6-0) forced Bow (4-1) to punt on the second half’s opening possession, then punted itself, a Stone kick moving the ball from midfield to the Falcons’ 5-yard line.
Robbins ran for no yards on the hosts’ next snap and was tackled in the end zone for a safety on the following play. That pushed the Raiders’ lead to 15-0 with four minutes expired in the third quarter.
By rule, Bow kicked the ball away after the safety and a strong Nyeoti Punni return set Lebanon up at the Falcons’ 23-yard line. Four snaps later, Cole Shambo covered 8 yards for a touchdown and Stone threw a conversion pass to Justin DeCarlo for a 23-0 lead that effectively ended the game with six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Raiders’ final touchdown came in classic Stone fashion and covered 35 yards. The junior swept left, stiff-armed Ryan Lover to the ground at the 15-yard line and successfully dove for the pylon ahead of two flying defenders. Ames’ kick closed the visitors’ scoring. Bow’s Boisvert threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Matt Cardarelli with five minutes to play.
Stone carried 13 times for 53 yards and two touchdowns and completed 7 of 13 passes for 71 yards. He had one throw intercepted. Shambo ran 13 times for 39 yards and a score. Robbins led Bow with 13 carries for 40 yards and Cardarelli caught two passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons’ lone score snapped a Lebanon shutout streak that dated back to the first half of its opener. The Raiders have outscored their opponents, 194-26, riding a defense coordinated by Todd Bircher. The Grantham resident and Hypertherm receiving employee is an original member of Chris Childs’ coaching staff.
“He likes to bring pressure and he does a good job of getting the kids fired up,” said the head coach, who promoted Bircher to coordinator about six years ago. “They like to play for him and he’s more of a rah-rah guy than I am, so we work off each other well.”
Bircher, a 1993 Lebanon High graduate who played linebacker and fullback for the Raiders, said he’s no analyst crunching numbers and analyzing probabilities. He employs expertise born of experience, combined with a willingness to bet on frequent blitzes.
“It’s a feel for what kind of tendencies the offense is falling into,” Bircher said. “Chris gives me free rein to do what I want on game day and he’s super supportive. I’m a gambler and the kids like it, so that’s how we coach our defense.
“We’ve got smart kids and we drill our scheme a lot in practice. They really get a feel for the game once it gets going.”
A defensive roll call lists ends Cameron Davio and Connor Brown, tackles Carrier and Josh Mondragon and linebackers Punni, Shambo, DeCarlo and C.J. Childs. The latter group is a bit undersized but more than compensates with quick reads and foot speed. The safeties are Stone and Calvin Bates and the cornerbacks are Jacob Hibner and Logan Sanchez.
“People don’t respect us yet and we came out here to earn it,” C.J. Childs said. “I do think we did that.”
Notes: C.J. Childs rolled his ankle early in the game and had it soaking in a bucket of ice and water not long after returning home… The Raiders feature only one sophomore on their varsity roster and only six freshmen on their JV lineup, so the 2020 and 2021 campaigns appear crucial in their pursuit of their first state title since 2010… The Raiders lost their program’s oldest living alum this week when 98-year old Steve Marchewka died. Marchewka was a three-sport athlete and played on the school’s 1938 championship football team.
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