Saturday, October 7, 2017

Natick Dominates Walpole in Bay State Conference Clash

By Brendan Hall (@BHallESPN)

WALPOLE - The last decade of the storied Natick-Walpole rivalry has seen numerous great finishes – many of them with Bay State Conference hardware on the line – and some unforgettable talents having unforgettable games, from Ryan Izzo and Scott McCummings, to Troy Flutie, Brian Dunlap and Steve Cuqua.

But in the 2017 installment of this border showdown, the turf at Turco Field seemed to only tilt one way.

Turning in arguably its best defensive performance of the young season, anchored by two first-half interceptions returned for touchdowns, Natick dominated on both sides of the ball from the opening kick, rolling Walpole 33-8 to improve to 5-0 for the fourth time since 2012.

“We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience here, and we had a great week of practice,” Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli said. “We felt good coming in, and we played well. We did a good job of keeping it simple and tackling.”

The Redhawks turned the ball over on downs on their game-opening drive, but flipped the tables just two plays into the ensuing Walpole (2-3) drive with a pick-six from linebacker Tim Ramstrom, the senior linebacker breaking to the flat at a perfect downhill angle for a 26-yard scamper and 6-0 lead.

“He’s got great hands, he’s a wrestler,” Mortarelli said. “He got his hands on the bubble screen and then he’s tough to bring down as a running back. He’s been making plays like that for us all year.”

Natick turned in a second pick-six in the second quarter just three plays after Christian D’Antonio’s one-yard sneak completed a 13-play, 59-yard scoring drive that made it 13-0. For one of the rare times in football it was a defensive lineman, nose guard Josh Atwood, who got a piece of a screen pass attempt, running it in from 33 yards out to put the Redhawks up three scores.

“Josh is quite the athlete,” Mortarelli said. “When [Walpole running back Drew Van Klock] is in the backfield, we knew they would try to get screens to him. Josh has got big, strong hands and can move. And when he got his hands on them, it was fun to watch.”

Malik Williams completed another clock-chewing Natick scoring drive, this one for 12 plays and 66 yards, with a 10-yard scamper up the left side to put the finishing touches on what was a dominant first 22 minutes. Walpole had just one three-and-out in the first half yet only managed to run 14 plays, totaling just 33 yards.

Amir Wells put the proverbial nail in the coffin early in the third with a one-yard plunge to make it 33-0, completing a six-play drive that started beautifully with a 31-yard back-shoulder catch-and-run from tight end David Carey.

The Rebels didn’t cross the 50 yard line until nine minutes remained, when Matt Lavanchy took a fake punt 44 yards up the right sideline for first and 10 at the Natick 33. They prevented the shutout with just 13 seconds to go, with Will Jarvis rumbling in from eight yards out to cap a six-play, 50-yard drive.


Natick came into Friday’s contest well-established on the ground in 2017, having already amassed 1,000 total rushing yards in just four games and averaging 6.5 yards per carry as a team. That trend continued under the lights at Turco, where the Redhawks averaged 7.75 yards per carry and accumulated nearly 260 rushing yards before giving way to the reserves late in the third quarter.

Behind center Jack Canney, guards Bailey McElinney and Ramathan Makayu, and tackles Will Brodnitzki and Jakobi Holiday, the Redhawks pack plenty of girth and have proven adept at moving bodies off the ball through the season’s first month. But what makes the Redhawks’ downhill, power-oriented attack is the way in which they’re establishing power at the point of attack.

Inside the red zone, the Redhawks are apt to swap in jumbo personnel and utilized the T Formation, last popularized over a half-century ago by George Halas’ Chicago Bears dynasty. But they also utilized plenty of three and four-receiver sets in an effort to draw Walpole defenders out of the box, running inside but also dipping in the occasional perimeter screen or quick slant to keep it honest, a number reflected in D’Antonio’s passing totals (10 of 13, 118 yards).

“We wanted to get the run game going, and then loosen them up with some quick passes,” Mortarelli said. “Christian’s able to complete those quick outs, quick slants, stuff like that, and he’s been able to do that very well. We have to be more balanced, we know that. I think every week we’ve been a little better at being balanced.”

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