After 47 minutes and 57.8 seconds, the New England Championship came down to a field goal attempt by Charles Coccia. With 2.2 seconds remaining on the game clock, Coccia trotted onto the field and awaited the 7 yards snap from short snapper Hugh Bartlett. The football stadium on the campus of Williston Northampton School was deftly quiet as Bartlett’s snap spiraled to place holder, Nick Weston, who placed the ball perfectly onto a one inch kicking block. As Coccia approached the ball, the protection team stepped low and hard to protect their inside gap as Phillips Exeter’s defense pushed forward in a desperate attempt to block the kick. Coccia’s foot struck the ball and the ball powerfully flew, end over end, through the uprights as time expired. As both arms of the referee extended vertically into the night air, the Salisbury bench erupted as they rushed the field in celebration of their New England Championship. The 29-26 victory extends Salisbury’s undefeated record to 9-0 and the recipient of the Jack Etter Bowl Trophy as the 2012 New England Champion.
After turning the ball over to Exeter on the opening kickoff of the game, the Knights defense responded on their first defensive series of the game by stopping Exeter on a fourth down attempt inside the Knights 40 yard line. Austin Whipple would then lead his offense on a 17 play drive that consisted of three third down conversations and one 4th down conversation on a 9 yard pass from Whipple to Nick Weston. Unfortunately, Salisbury’s drive would end on a failed 4th and goal attempt from Exeter’s one foot line. However, the Knights would be the first to put points on the scoreboard on the ensuing play as linebackers Darnell Hart and Shane Johnson would sack Exeter’s quarterback in the end zone for a safety.
Nine plays later, the Knights defense would create another turnover, giving the ball back to the offense. Whipple again would lead his offensive unit on a 12 play drive; ending in a 1 yard plunge by Shawahl Abdur-Rahman behind the blocking of Shane Johnson, Tyler Fisher, and Elden Baker. With a 9-0 lead, Exeter would not go away as they connected on a 29 yard touchdown pass; making the score 9-7. Tommy D’Antonio would push the score to 16-7 when he picked up a blocked punt and scampered in for a score; the Knights second touchdown on the afternoon. Scoring in the waning moments of the half, Exeter would make the contest a three point game after a touchdown and a failed point after attempt. The Knights entered the intermission with a 16-13 lead.
Exeter would strike first in the second half with 63 yard touchdown pass which gave Exeter their first lead of the game, 16-19, as they failed to convert on the their two point conversation attempt. Whipple, however, led his team again on another 12 play drive that concluded with Whipple crossing the goal line on a quarterback sneak; giving the Knights a 23-19 lead. The Knights would push their lead to 7 points on a 22 yard field goal from Charles Coccia in the final minutes of the third quarter. Exeter, however, would once again respond on a one yard run that would even the game up at 26 points apiece.
In the latter minutes of the 4th quarter, Exeter, facing a stingy Knights defense, faked a punt that looked as if it would be successful as an Exeter receiver dashed to the first down marker. With tremendous effort, Scott Hovey dove and tripped up the ball carrier; dropping him two yards shy of the first down marker. After exchanging series, the Knights would have one final attempt for victory as Whipple took over with only a couple of minutes remaining to play. Methodically, the Knights would march the ball down the field on a twelve play drive; highlighted by a 4th down conversion pass from Whipple to D’Antonio. Head Coach Chris Phelps remarked on the conversion saying, “That 4th down conversion is one of those plays that has been forgotten in the excitement of the victory. It was a pressure throw and a pressure catch. Not only did it extend our drive but it also kept the ball out of Exeter’s hands. The 11 yards reception was a big time play.” Four plays and 17 yards later, Coccia would be on the field for his victorious kick.
Chris Phelps expressed his pride in his team stating, “This was a special game for our program. Throughout the entire game we had different people step up and make plays at different times. We have played unselfish football this year where no individual goals were more important than team success. As a result, we were able to accomplish both. Playing within the team concept, we had great individual performances that led to a team championship.”