Saturday, September 23, 2017

Lawrence Academy Tops BB&N in Anticipated ISL Opener

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

GROTON - Because the ISL season is compacted into a short eight game schedule, each game takes on its own significance. A single loss could result in being eliminated from postseason bowl contention. That is why Saturday's season opener pitting Buckingham, Browne & Nichols against Lawrence Academy held special meaning.

In a battle between the last two ISL champions, the host Spartans got off on the right foot early and never wavered as they rolled to a 38-17 victory.

"The kids came out excited and I was really proud of their effort today," LA head coach Paul Zukauskas said. "I give a lot of credit to BB&N as well. They did a nice job in trying to come back and never quit. I love the leadership on this group in terms of what our captains do in the way that they respond to everything I've asked from them. With the coaches and players we have I am very excited for this season."

LA's balanced effort on both sides of the ball took precedent in this one as the Knights fell into a marginal hole early that they could never crawl out of. The Spartans (1-0) sent a message at the outset that they want to validate themselves as the team to beat this season, and capture the ISL crown as they did back in 2015.

On the opening kickoff, freshman Juan Muse returned it 84 yards to put LA on the board. Less than three minutes later, following a BB&N punt, the Spartans offense took the field for the first time. It did not take long for them to get kick started. A 46 yard pitch and catch from sophomore quarterback Brady Martin to senior tight end, and Boston College commit, Joseph Luchetti led to a Josh Arruda 11 yard scoring run to make it 14-0. Arruda, a junior, finished with a team-high 112 yards on the ground.

"It couldn't feel any better to start the year 1-0," said Martin, a Leominster native who completed 14 of 18 passes for 137 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions. "We just came out and tried to win this game and we did. I think we showed what we can do as a team. We have a lot of talent all over the field."

The Knights (0-1) offense found themselves in a major struggle against a vaunted LA defensive front. Their running game, primarily consisting of Devin Marrocco, Zack Cyr and Desi O'Mahony continued to gain minimal yardage which put them behind the 8 ball often. That, in turn, forced BB&N head coach Mike Willey to go to the air more. But that was equally non-existent for the most part. Quarterback Ryan Eamer completed 15 of 35 for 143 yards and was picked off twice. Eamer, who hails from Medfield, found himself being forced out of the pocket on numerous occasions by the on-coming LA defense. The defending ISL champion Knights finished with 295 offensive yards, with 132 of it coming late in the fourth quarter with this contest already decided.

On the Spartans second possession, a mix of pass and run set up AJ Mastrangelo's 29 yard field goal with 1:20 still remaining in the opening quarter to put them in front by 17. Desperately in need of any kind of spark, the Knights finally got one early in the second. Forced to punt from the 50, Muse set up for a return only to see the ball bounce out of his hands and into those of BB&N's Brad Basham. The rejuvenated Knights began moving the ball. They reached the LA 1 yard line before Eamer fumbled the snap that was recovered by Luchetti at the 4. However, just moments after the turnover, Martin, while fading back to pass, was ruled down inside the end zone, despite heaving the ball away, which resulted in a safety for BB&N as they now trailed 17-2.

LA simply shrugged off the miscue by forcing a quick three-and-out on the Knights next series, taking over on its own 33. A Luchetti 32 yard grab was followed by a Martin 7 yard strike to Thomas Greany. A couple of key runs from Muse (83 yards) and Arruda were proceeded by a Martin well-executed fade pass to Justin Barron, who caught the ball in the back of the end zone while managing to keep one foot in bounds and increase the Spartans advantage to 24-2 late in the first half.

BB&N got the ball to start the final half and its special teams would return an earlier favor after Cyr ran back the kickoff 85 yards for the score and breath some life into the Knights' downtrodden sideline. It certainly woke up a stagnant defense as some adjustments were made during intermission which made things a bit more difficult for LA's offense to navigate.

The Spartans (315 yards) failed to move the ball with any kind of flow for much of the final 24 minutes. Late in the third, they put forth a decent drive that landed them on the Knights 32. But on fourth-and-18, a Martin pass resulted in minus-7 yards, giving the ball back to BB&N.

Early in the fourth, with the Knights marching in attempt to draw closer, Eamer threw an interception to Spencer Aronson. However, LA did nothing with the ensuing possession. Another BB&N drive would buckle on the Spartans 5 as it came up just inches short of securing a first down. LA's offense finally re-awoke on the change of possessions thanks to Arruda's 81 yard scamper down the left side which staked the Spartans out to a 31-10 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

But the scoring was not quite finished. Moments later, Arronson stepped in front of an Eamer pass and raced 50 yards untouched into the end zone, adding to LA's margin. To BB&N's credit, it continued to battle. With just over a minute left, the Knights engineered a 65 yard drive capped off by Marrocco's 12 yard scamper across the goal line to close this one out.

"They are a very good football team," Willey said. "Paul does a great job and his kids play hard. I thought they played hard the entire game. They made a lot of big plays on us today that we need to eliminate. We are a young team still trying to figure some things out. Our guys worked hard but we need to execute better on the field. We just have to get back to work on Monday and fix some things."

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