Sunday, October 29, 2017

Deerfield Academy Overcomes the Elements and Phillips Andover

By John McGuirk (@patsfan1313)

- You didn't need a degree from MIT to tell you about the averse conditions leading into Sunday's Central New England League confrontation between Phillips Academy-Andover and Deerfield Academy.

Playing in a pelting rainstorm, the conditions at Jim Smith Field continued to worsened as the game progressed. By the time this one was over, plush, natural green grass transcended into a muddy mosh pit.

As expected, playing in such conditions will hamper your offense. In the case of the Big Blue and Big Green, it most-certainly did.

Horrendous footing on both sides, along with a slippery ball, turned this tilt into a battle of resiliency. Yet somehow, someway, Deerfield was able to engineer a formidable drive late in the second quarter resulting in a touchdown. As it stood, that was the only points put forth on this miserable afternoon as the Big Green triumphed 7-0.

"We know that we cannot control the weather," said Big Green head coach Brian Barbato. "Today was about embracing the weather and making the necessary adjustments. It was just a matter of maintaining gaps and getting off the ball. I thought we did a pretty good job with that."

With the victory, Deerfield moves to 6-1 and keeps its postseason bowl hopes alive, while Phillips' comes to a resounding end as the Big Blue are now 4-2. With an off week coming up, the Big Green will face unbeaten Choate Rosemary Hall School here in two weeks in a key match-up which could decide their fate.

With the passing game held to a premium, both teams realized the one that ran the best would most-likely come away victorious. Deerfield's running attack did just enough to swing things in its favor.

Senior back Keegan McHugh was the Big Green's workhorse all throughout. The 6-1, 200-pounder from Forest Hill, MD literally put his club on his back as he rushed for 104 yards on 21 attempts, and scored the lone touchdown. McHugh was instrumental in keeping drives alive as Deerfield did a nice job of ball control offense. The Big Green, as a whole, finished with 168 yards while holding the Big Blue to 106. McHugh was also stellar from his defensive back position, making a number of tackles.

"This was a lot of fun today," McHugh said. "It was like playing in your backyard when you are a little kid. Running the ball was tough and throwing the ball was even tougher. Fortunately, even in the rain, we were able to pull this one out. Today it was the will of our defense. We bend but don't break. That is what we have done all year. Our offensive line made holes when needed and we were able to make enough plays. As a team, we've come together so much these past few weeks that I couldn't ask for anything more."

From the outset, it was obvious to the brave patrons on hand who sat through this affair, that neither team would be able to play their normal style. Running backs, highly-capable of cutting on a dime, fell down on their own as their feet gave way. Big Green quarterback Jack Bill and counterpart Zach Geddes could barely grip the ball when it was time to pass. Bill was 3 of 10 for 31 yards while Geddes, a Winchester product, finished 0 for 10.

"It was a great game in spite of the conditions," said Big Blue head coach Leon Modeste. "Deerfield is a very good team, are well-coached, and they made the plays today when they had to. Overall, it was fun for the kids to play in the mud like this. We don't play on many grass surfaces so this was different. We still have two games left against Worcester Academy and Phillips Exeter so hopefully we can win out and have a great season."

Late in the opening quarter, Phillips was able to manage a ground consuming drive. Behind the running of Gutemberg Almeida (19 yards) and William Litton (39), the Big Blue marched to the Deerfield 20 yard line. But facing a fourth-and-9, Geddes was sacked for minus-9 yards to stall the drive.

Fast forward to late in the second quarter when the Big Green finally began to stabilize their offense a bit. Starting from their own 37, Bill was taken down eight yards behind the line of scrimmage on the first play. Moments later, on third-and-23, Bill connected with Sam Dwinell for 13 yards. In the process, Phillips was penalized for roughing the passer giving the Big Green a first down. With Bill out for the moment, freshman Cortland Dicks entered and quickly threw a 28 yard strike to Dwinell to the Big Blue 12. One play later, McHugh blasted up the middle for the touchdown with 4:01 left before halftime.

"Keegan is one of the best football players I have ever been around," said Barbato. "I cannot say enough about his grit and toughness. He is the type of kid that shows up in this type of game."

With the rain beginning to intensify during the second half, both teams continued to play a game of slip and slide. Midway through the third, after recovering a Deerfield fumble on the Big Green 42, Phillips was in good position to tie things. But an incomplete pass on fourth down dashed those chances.

Another Deerfield turnover early in the fourth breathed new life into the Big Blue. Phillips was able to sustain a drive that took them down to the Big Green 23. But once again, on fourth down, Geddes' pass fell incomplete. Deerfield, now winners of five straight, took over and ran out the clock.

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