Thursday, September 28, 2017

Postgame Blog: Shepherd Hill Wins Shootout at Algonquin

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

NORTHBOROUGH - If you thought Shepherd Hill's football team could only win physical slugfests, think again.

The Rams sent a message to the rest of Division 3 Central, pulling away from young Algonquin 61-36 Friday night at Algonquin Regional High School.

There was barely any time to catch your breath in this one, but here are a few things I took away from the Rams' statement win.

A Turning Point

The game was going back-and-forth early, with Algonquin (1-3) taking a 16-14 lead in the first. In fact, the Rams only had 14 due to an electric kick return from sophomore Nathaniel Cooper (more on him later), and were getting bogged down offensively.

That all changed after Shepherd Hill (3-1) gave up its second touchdown of the day, and got caught sleeping on a two-point conversion by the Tomahawks.

First-year coach Ryan Dugan got on his team about feeling sorry for themselves, and challenged them to toughen up. Senior Zack Magdis answered the call.

The Rams went no huddle, and rode Magdis deep into Tomahawk territory. From that point on, the Shepherd Hill Double Wing running attack was virtually unstoppable, with Magdis finishing the day with a pair of scores, including a 55-yarder before the half to help give the Rams a 41-22 halftime lead.

"Absolutely," Magdis said when asked if the momentum changed following the Algonquin score. "It felt like our offense was really on after that tonight."

No Early Bathroom Breaks

Those who attempted to beat the crowd to the restroom or snack bar missed a bunch of fireworks.

That's because Magdis' 55-yard touchdown run, with less than two minutes to play in the half, sparked a scoring run before intermission to be remembered.

Just over a minute after Magdis' run, Algonquin quarterback Hayden Kea found receiver Zach Smith for a 20-yard score to cap off a long Gonk drive. But, just before the halftime gun, Shepherd Hill quarterback Mick Sullivan found running back Ben Carpenter off of play action for a long touchdown to give the Rams the last word of the opening half.

With 21 points scored in under two minutes, and 14 of those coming in the half's final 40 seconds, there was no reason to beat the line for a Diet Coke.

Cooper's Breakout Game

Most people know of Shepherd Hill sophomore Nathaniel Cooper simply as "Kevin Mensah's cousin," but the young defensive back proved to be quite the play maker in his own right Friday night.

After bobbling a first quarter kickoff return, the speedster collected the ball, made the first man miss, then burst through a hole for an 80-yard return touchdown.

Then, after the Rams turned the ball over on downs following a botched long snap on a punt, Cooper intercepted Kea's pass in the end zone, stopping the bleeding for Shepherd Hill, and eventually helping the Rams re-claim the momentum.

In the second half, Cooper would again turn a small seam into a big return, working his way inside the Algonquin 30 and setting up another Ram touchdown.

While there will be some growing pains for the young player defensively, coach Dugan hopes Friday night was just the first of many dominant performances for the underclassmen.

"(Cooper) has the chance to be an elite defensive back," Dugan said. "He played okay in the first three games, and we actually joked as a coaching staff. We said, 'one of these days, he's gonna make a couple picks or return one, and it's just gonna snap for him. He's gonna turn into a big-time player.' I hope to say that today is that night."

Plenty to Like About Algonquin

Algonquin may have lost Friday, but this squad showcased a ton of potential, and promises to be a tough out the rest of this year. With quarterback Hayden Kea leading the offense, and receivers Brett Casellini and Zach Smith, along with running back John Polymeros providing an electric supporting cast, Gonk can score with anyone.

With as many players as Algonquin graduated following last year's playoff run, there were bound to be some growing pains, but the Tomahawks have so far showcased as much skill and athleticism as anybody in the region.

"They've got a lot of skill on (Algonquin)," Dugan said. "We knew we weren't going to win this game 14-7."

Dugan would go on to say that Casellini, who gave the Rams fits early, was one of the best receivers he had seen recently in the region.

It is only in the trenches, where the T-Hawks have some room to grow physically, that Algonquin can't quite match up for a whole game against the best in CMass. The size and depth just isn't there yet, but if any team sleeps on Algonquin the rest of the way, they'll be washed away by an explosive offense and opportunistic defense.

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