Sunday, December 4, 2016

RECAP: King Phillip Tops Reading for First State Title

By Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A long day of championship football that resembled a feast concluded with a connoisseur’s dessert between King Philip and Reading for the Division 1A State Title.

The players on both teams gave everything they had, while the coaches and coordinators on both sides called plays with the intricacy of a chess match. In the end, King Philip prevailed by a final of 21-18 to earn the first Super Bowl Championship in school history.

Afterwards, emotional Warriors head coach Brian Lee expressed his appreciation for his player’s ability to execute in key situations.

“That’s why this team is so special,” Lee said. “We’re a running team and we had to throw it today. And we had to throw it to people who aren’t your conventional wide receivers and they had to make plays on the biggest stage.”

The Warriors came into this title game undefeated on the strength of an excellent rushing attack and stout defense, but that formula was put to the test early by a Reading team that matched their physicality and held them scoreless through the first 19 minutes of play.

That was when King Philip offensive coordinator John Sarianides started to open up the playbook, as he called a few creative pass plays to set up a 17-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Brendan Lydon to wide receiver Ethan Dunne right before halftime.

Up 7-6 to begin the third quarter, Sarianides called a fullback dive on the first play of the Warriors opening drive. On the next play from scrimmage, his team lined up in the same formation, but he used play action to spring tight end Brett Mazur (2 receptions, 131 yards, TD) for a 62-yard gain on a wheel route.

“We knew that [The Rockets] were going to pack the box on us, give us a ‘60’ front and not let us do what we do and what got us here,” explained Sarianides. “So we thought, you know what, we’ve got a good quarterback, he’s experienced this year and let’s line up and start throwing it, and our kids made plays all over the place.”

Lydon made plays all evening with his arm, his legs, and even his head on a critical fourth down at the end of that drive. Facing fourth-and-one from the two-yard line, the junior ran up to the huddle, called for a quarterback sneak on a quick snap count and surprised the Rockets by pushing the pile for a touchdown to put his squad up 14-6.

“I just thought tempo would have them beat, so I ran up to the line, sneaked it and it worked,” Lydon said. “It was huge to get up right then and give the defense more confidence.”

However, the Reading coaching staff had a few up their sleeves as well. On the very first play of the fourth quarter, Rockets head coach John Fiore called for a jet sweep reverse handoff to Matt Panacopoulos, who throw the ball downfield to Eric D’Agostino for a 50-yard touchdown on a brilliant play call.

Reading couldn’t convert the two-point attempt and trailed 14-12, but King Philip clearly needed to make a few more big plays if they wanted to win this rock fight.

The Warriors wasted little time in responding, as Sarianides made a similar play call to get Mazur free on another play action fake, and Lydon dropped a beautiful throw over his shoulder to hit his senior for a 69-yard touchdown and a two-score lead at 21-12.

Failed two-point conversions proved to be the Rockets downfall, as workhorse running back Nick DiNapoli (14 carries, 115 yards, TD; 3 receptions, 94 yards, TD) made several defenders miss on a 63-yard score to make it 21-18 with 3:38 left on the clock.

Their opponent only had one timeout, and the Warriors leaned on the ground game that won them so many games to pick up a first down before converting with a pass on fourth down to seal the deal.

“We just trusted the game plan,” Lydon said. “We listened to our coaching staff and went with the flow. We always had the potential to make plays in the passing game but we were known as a running team. When it came down to it, we had to throw the ball, and it feels great to get it done.”

After the game, Lee showered praise on his undefeated junior quarterback.

“[Lydon] is really calm. He is so smart and his leadership came out today. When you have a kid who can throw like that and you don’t really use him, you have to give him credit for his patience,” said Lee. “Every time he’s started he’s never lost”

Football can be a brutal sport, and it depends on physicality as well as athleticism, but when the minds on the sidelines as well as those on the field are executing an intelligent game plan, it is truly a joy to watch.

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