Mount Anthony football vs Bellows Falls 9/16/2022

Bellows Falls running back Walker James evades a tackle during Friday night's game against Mount Anthony at Spinelli Field.

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BENNINGTON — Tanner Bushee found his running back and senior captain Ayman Naser in the flats in the closing seconds of the first half of Friday night’s Division II championship rematch against Bellows Falls. Bushee dumped it off and Naser did the rest, fighting through contact and diving for the pylon with nine seconds remaining in the first half.

Things were looking up for MAU after failing to score up until that point. The Patriots were finally on the board and even better, trimmed their deficit in half to 14-6. An efficient two minute drill appeared to flip the momentum in their favor heading into the locker room.

And then the penalty flag plopped on the ground.

Naser was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for excessive celebration. The senior captain spiked the ball after the score before he was greeted by his teammates on the field.

On a night when MAU lacked discipline – accumulating seven flags including three unsportsmanlike penalties and another personal foul – that flag hurt the most. It was Naser’s second unsportsmanlike penalty of the contest, ejecting him for the final 24 minutes.

Just like that, the small MAU victory felt like a huge blow as they were without their star running back.

The mistakes proved to much to overcome, as Bellows Falls left Bennington with a 28-13 victory.

Naser was flagged for mimicking the Bellows Falls cadence on an extra point attempt two minutes prior on what was another frustrating drive for MAU, who were assessed three penalties on that drive alone.

It started when Bellows Falls quarterback Jamison Nystrom was able to get the Patriots D-line jump offsides on a hard count on third and four from midfield, giving the Terriers a fresh set of downs. Later in the drive and with Bellows Falls on its way to a 14-0 advantage, MAU was assessed its first unsportsmanlike penalty of the game. While it only moved the ball less than three yards since the ball was already on the MAU 5, the free yards were invaluable after both teams battled for every yard early. The game was scoreless through the first quarter; then the MAU penalties began stacking on top of one another.

Two plays after the unsportsmanlike, Nystrom used a silent count and fell into the end zone on a 1-yard qb sneak to build the Terriers lead to 14-0 with 2:22 left in the first half.

To beat a team like Bellows Falls, the same program that bested MAU in last year’s Division II championship game, you have to limit your mistakes. MAU coach Chad Gordon said the discipline issues begin with the coaching staff and they “need to be better.”

The Terriers rushing attack was relentless all night. Caden Haskell had 100 of his 130 yards in the second half. Haskell added three scores on the ground, including the game’s first score. On a fourth and one early in the second quarter, the running back took a handoff and found a gap on the right side for the scoring plunge.

The Patriots looked as though they were going to strike first. On second down and 17 midway through the first quarter MAU called for a bootleg right. With Bushee rolling out, Sean MacDonald ran past his defender and was all alone. Bushee quickly identified MacDonald and made a great pass on the move, but his tight end was unable to come down with the ball as it dropped out of his hands.

Bushee found running back Josh Worthington on the following play for a gain of one, and MAU was forced to punt.

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The Terriers received the ball to start the second half and it took just five plays for them to once again find the end zone.

Trailing 21-7, Bushee found his favorite target of the day, Carter Thompson, for 21 yards to put the ball in Bellows Falls territory.

Facing a fourth and four at the 42, the MAU offense stayed on the field. Before it could get the snap off, another flag flew: delay of game, backing the Patriots up another five yards.

Bushee’s next pass fell to the ground as MAU turned it over on downs. Bellows Falls responded with a back-breaking eight play, 54 yard drive to expand its lead to three possessions.

To MAU’s credit, it never stopped fighting. Bushee kept slinging it, mostly to Thompson (12 catches, 164 yards) and Braeden Billert (three catches, 38 yards).

Bushee found Billert for a 13 yard score with 10:56 remaining to make it a 28-13 game. MAU missed the extra point after a high snap threw off the timing.

It would be MAU’s final points of the night. They nearly had more, on a long Bushee to Thompson connection with under two minutes remaining.

Bushee escaped trouble inside the pocket, found space to the right and fired a 50/50 ball down the right sideline to Thompson who highpointed the ball and came down with it over the cornerback draped all over him.

Thompson skirted down the right sideline before finally being pushed out at the MAU 13.

Bushee once again faced pressure on the following play. He once again escaped the initial threat, rolled to the right and threw across his body to the middle of the field.

A Bellows Falls defender read it well and was able to pick off the pass, ending MAU’s comeback bid.

Bushee finished his night 19-for-31 for 223 yards, two TDs and three interceptions.

MAU (2-1) suffers its first setback of the season and will look to regroup Saturday at Mount Mansfield (0-2).

Michael Mawson can be reached on Twitter @Mawson_Sports or via email at mmawson@benningtonbanner.com.

Sports Reporter

Michael Mawson is the sports editor for Vermont News & Media. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire in 2019. Michael was the sports editor of UNH’s student newspaper where he covered NCAA Division I athletics.


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