Saturday, September 30, 2017

Doherty Rallies Late Against Rival St. Peter-Marian

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

WORCESTER - In a game that looked all too pedestrian for three-plus quarters, things suddenly took a wild turn in the latter stages.

Once St. Peter-Marian's Matt Dumphy hit the ground running following his 57-yard punt return for a touchdown with 8:18 remaining, putting the Guardians ahead by eight points, things were looking good for the home team.

But an ill wind suddenly blew across the SPM sideline soon thereafter, as two Guardian miscues would lead to pair of Doherty touchdowns, resulting in an improbable 26-22 victory for the Highlanders on a chilly, overcast Saturday afternoon. 

"It's always a game like this up here against those guys and anything can happen," said Highlanders 28th year head coach Sean Mulcahy, his team improving to 3-1. "I told our team at halftime that I thought we were a bit too hyped for this game and we lost some of our poise. But we were able to escape today. We had to find a way today. A year ago I don't think this group of guys would have found that way. But today we didn't quit. I'm very proud of them."

Preceding the SPM score, Doherty's possession resulted in a quick three-and-out as the Highlanders gave the ball back to the Guardians with time continuing to wind down. However, Doherty's defense came up huge by forcing SPM to punt from its own 45.

That is when everything turned.

John Forson got just enough penetration to get a hand on Christian Holmberg's punt. The ball was then scooped up by Kenny Amoah, who returned it 44 yards untouched for the touchdown. After the Highlanders attempt for a two point conversion failed, they trailed 22-20 with 5:18 left.

On the ensuing kickoff, Sotir Naslazi booted a pooch kick that landed into no-mans land. The Guardian special teams unit looked somewhat confused, as the ball rolled along the sod with nobody taking charge. That allowed Doherty senior Kenashe Jeranyama to pounce on it, giving the Highlanders the ball on the SPM 30.

Moving to the Guardians' 2-yard line, back-up quarterback Noah Callery, on second down, dropped the snap but had the wherewithal to pick it up and run into the end zone to move Doherty ahead for good with 1:46 to go.

"Noah made a lot of big plays for us today and he is going to be a great player in our future," Mulcahy said. "In fact, he's a great player right now and we are lucky we have him."

On the subsequent kickoff, the Guardians got a nice 43-yard return from Michael Sheeran to reach the Highlander 27. Gaining little on its first three snaps, SPM faced a fourth-and-one. Staying on the ground, running back Cam Williams, trying to bust around left end, was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage by an onslaught of Doherty defenders to close this one out.

On its initial possession, SPM (2-2) jumped in front first. A long, clock consuming 87 yard drive was capped off by Dumphy's 3 yard scamper into the end zone. However, the Guardians, who finished with 201 total yards but only 60 in the closing half, were unable to seize momentum following the score. Likewise, Doherty's offense stood still for a large portion of the opening half, unable to mount much consistency. The Highlanders, who had 120 yards in the opening half, finished with 214.

But midway through the second quarter, Doherty was beginning to find its stride offensively as it reached the SPM 20. However, starting quarterback Chris Schoen's toss into the end zone was intercepted by Dan Malm to keep the Highlanders off the board.

Following a Guardians punt, Doherty regained possession on its own 30. With Callery in the game, the freshman opened by rumbling 40 yards. Three plays later, Callery, using a fake pump, caught the SPM secondary biting just enough to allow running back junior Tajon Vassar to sprint down the right sideline for a 35 yard scoring hookup and even things at 7 apiece with 3:21 to go before halftime.

"They were playing man on us, and Vassar ran an out-and-up and scored," said Callery. "All I was doing was just trying and help my team win today. Even when we were down our coaches continued to tell us to stay up. Sometimes crazy plays happen and because of it we were able to find a way to win."

Coming out to open the second half, the Highlanders would get the ball first. Behind Calley, who was 4 of 6 passing for 52 yards, and Vassar (72 rushing yards), the Highlanders marched 69 yards before Vassar dove just inside the right pylon from two yards out to give Doherty its first lead of the afternoon 14-7.

But that proved to be short-lived. On SPM's next possession, Dumphy (36 yards) and Malm, at quarterback, engineered a nice offensive push capped off by Dumphy's 2 yard carry into the end zone. Dumphy also converted the conversion run to put the Guardians on top 15-14 early in the fourth quarter. Moments later, Dumphy excelled again following his special teams score.

"I thought for the most part we played a pretty good football game," first year SPM head coach Justin McKay said. "In a rival game like this, that can be so emotional, we talked to our kids about not getting too high or too low. But I felt with five minutes to go in the game, after Matt's touchdown return, we got a little too high and were thinking this game was in our hands. Credit to Doherty for blocking that punt for a score and then recovering the kickoff. The ball took a funny bounce they were able to recover it and ended up scoring late. This is a hurtful lesson but it is also a valuable one for us."

As McKay attested too, Dumphy's return perhaps had the Guardians thinking they were in control of things.  Maybe they did get a bit too rambunctious and lost some of their focus. If, in fact, that was the case, then Doherty was more than gracious to accept, take advantage and eventually pull out a victory from the jaws of defeat.

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