PELHAM — The Pelham High football team faced its toughest challenge Nov. 2 when 8-0 Gilford came to town, but the Pythons prevailed, 13-12, capping off an undefeated regular season.
A couple of days before the game, coach Tom Babaian said he expected the Eagles to give his team a battle. “They’re going to give us all we can handle.” He was right on the money.
However, the 9-0 Pythons rose to the challenge and clinched the top seed in the Division V playoffs. Pelham now will host fourth-seeded Bow (6-3) in a semifinal playoff game Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. — the next hurdle on its way to securing its first championship. Pelham beat Bow 33-14 in the second game of the season.
“We’ve been so close so many years and it’s been taken away from us,” said junior co-captain Bruce Vieira, the team’s leading rusher. “Everyone’s ready this year; we’re ready to get over that hump. It’s kind of old; we want to get it and get a banner.”
The Pythons, who have have lost in the semifinals the past three seasons, are eager to capture their first state title.
Co-captain Max Roth said if the team had a motto, it would be “Finish it.”
“The past three years we’ve had it here and every year just haven’t been able to finish it,” the senior center said. “I think this year the whole team has a better mindset; we know what we want and what we have to do to get it.”
Babaian said from the first day of double sessions the team has been focused on this season — one game at a time.
“I think we have a good core that understands that you have to take one week at a time and focus on things in that order,” the 12-year coach said. “You can’t focus on teams three weeks later; you have to focus on the team ahead and you have no control over anything else but the team you are playing that week. That’s what we’ve been doing.
“The mindset was there to win the championship; the same that it is every year. Once we came out of double sessions and came out of our first game (with a win), I think they believed that they can win every game they play in.”
The Pythons haven’t simply won every game, they have dominated, outscoring their opponents 369-51 with five shutouts.
Vieira is a key factor to Pelham’s offense.
The junior running back has rushed for 1,114 yards and 27 touchdowns, after rushing for 1,023 yards and 20 touchdowns last season as a sophomore.
“It’s the offensive linemen,” Vieira said humbly. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have anything. It takes 11 guys to do everything and especially those linemen.”
Roth said his linemates are simply trying to keep the play in front of them despite their size. “We’re small on the line but we out hit our opponents; that’s what wins the games. The fastest team off the ball win games,” Roth said. “You don’t see any slow teams off the ball winning games.”
Babaian has a different impression as to why the junior running back is so successful.
“Bruce is a special kid; he has more desire than most kids — probably more than 98 percent of them — and that’s all it is with him, desire and hard work in the offseason,” Babaian said. “He works harder than everybody else in the offseason and it pays off on Friday nights.”
Despite the success the Pythons have had during the past few seasons, Babaian said the team wants to stay in Division V.
“We’re definitely not looking to move up in the divisions. Wherever they put us based on numbers (school population) is where we’ll go,” Babaian said. “Our school is still struggling; we haven’t won a championship yet and until we do that and until we start with that kind of dominance in the division, we’re not looking to move up and think we’re better than we are.
“We’re happy where we are, and we’re just looking to make some noise this year.”