With four minutes to go last Friday night, the Winthrop Vikings footballs team seemed to be in command of the league championship game they were hosting against Newburyport, with a 7-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the football gods were not smiling on the hometown team this time, as Winthrop turned the ball over twice in the final four minutes and Newburyport escaped Miller Field with a 12-7 victory and its first league championship in 14 years.
“This was the worst loss I’ve ever had in 20 years of coaching,” said head coach Sean Driscoll, taking responsibility for the late game breakdowns. “There is no one to blame but me. They had nine turnovers during the game, and we had five, but they were able to capitalize on our last two and that was the difference in the game.”
Driscoll said that despite earlier errors in the game by some of the players involved, he had confidence in his players that they would be able to close out the game and that was why he chose not to substitute players down the stretch.
“I’ve always felt that when players make mistakes, you go right back to them, show them you have confidence in them,” said Driscoll. “Fortunately, we have another game left for this season, this doesn’t have to be our final memory of the 2011 season and we can build on this going forward.”
For most of the game, Driscoll and the Vikings made all of the right calls, The Winthrop defense played stout, hard hitting football, even forcing many of the 9 Newburyport turnovers that occurred during the game.
“I thought our defense looked the best it has all season,” said Driscoll. “They played great and at times I thought we did a good job of moving the ball, we just had trouble getting into the end zone. If we had capitalized a little more on some of our own chances, it wouldn’t have come down to those last two mistakes at the end.”
However, with 3:55 to play in the fourth quarter Newburyport got its first break of the evening, when the snap flew over the head of the Winthrop punter and into the end zone. Newburyport recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and after a failed two-point try, Winthrop still led 7-6.
On the ensuing possession, Winthrop was moving the ball in an attempt to kill the clock, but a costly fumble gave Newburyport the ball at the Winthrop 40-yard line and with 55 seconds to play.
Still the Vikings defense started out strong, pushing Newburyport back four yards on the first three plays, but Clippers Quarterback Connor Wile completed a fourth and 14 yard pass to all-time leading Newburyport receiver Brett Fontaine for 24 yards. Fontaine then pulled down a fourth and seven yards pass for 14 yards and the eventual game winning score, a seven yard touchdown pass that gave Newburyport its first and only lead with 55 seconds remaining.
The Vikings will wrap up their season on Thanksgiving Day at Miller Field against archrival Revere, with and chance to finish the season 6-4 overall.