Friday, October 6, 2017

Nipmuc Edges St. Bernard's in Defensive Struggle

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

- Averaging 28 points-per-game in its first four contests, Nipmuc has made it look relatively easy during the first half of the regular season. But on Friday evening, that scenario was altered a bit.

Facing a stout St. Bernard's squad, the Warriors needed to scratch and claw their way from beginning to end in order to pull out a 7-0 Dual Valley Conference victory at the Bernardian Bowl.

Despite the 278 yards it accumulated, Nipmuc's main difficulty came when it was time to convert short distances on third and fourth down in an attempt to sustain drives and eat time off the clock.

Although the Bernardian defense was beaten a handful of times on long runs, and a few timely passes,  when it came time for the Warriors to get that one necessary yard, St. Bernard's managed to hold its ground on a couple of occasions. That crunch time defense kepts St. B's in this one until the bitter end.

"We were struggling on our short yardage plays," said Warriors head coach Shawn Hill. "They did a great job against us on third and fourth down. We had a tough time. But on first and second down we weren't too bad."

Truth be told, had it not been for the Bernardian defense, Nipmuc most-likely would have rolled in this one. Unfortunately, the St. Bernard's offense was no where to be found on this warm night as it finished with just 79 yards, including only 5 in the first half.

With the triumph, the Warriors, who reached last year's Division 3A state semifinal before falling to eventual state champ East Bridgewater,  improve to 5-0, while St. Bernard's drops to 3-2.

Nipmuc's big, physical defensive front consisting of Logan Gorman, Brett Carlson, Nathaniel Gould, Matt Richards, Bretton Loftus and Thomas Chesters proved to be a major thorn in the Bernardians' side, constantly wreaking havoc on St. Bernard's quarterback Dazeen Figueroa from start to finish. The junior, who appeared to be running for his life after each snap, completed 6 of 14 passes for 43 yards. On the ground, he finished with minus-10 yards. The only Bernardian able to make a positive contribution was running back Xavier Marty, who rushed for 28 yards.

"Our defensive ends, our linemen and our linebackers continued to swarm a really athletic quarterback," Hill said. "Overall I thought both team's defensive lines played well. Both were physical but I thought the difference in the game was our defensive line and linebackers and their ability to pass rush them a lot."

On their second possession of the game, the Warriors pieced together a nicely-executed 13-play, 68 yard drive capped off by senior running back John Schiloski's 1 yard drive over the goal line coming at 8:22 of the second quarter. Later in the frame, Nipmuc appeared primed to add to its total but quarterback Nicolas Clark's 17 yard pass into the left corner of the end zone was a bit under thrown which allowed safety Allen Link to pick it off.

"I was very proud of our defensive effort," said Bernardians head coach Tom Bingham. "Nipmuc is clearly the biggest team that we've seen this year and are certainly significantly bigger then we are. They play a physical brand of football. Just as please as I am about our defense, I am extremely disappointed with our offense. We never found any kind of rhythm all night. Part of that was because of Nipmuc's strong defensive effort. I just don't think we had good composure offensively. We seemed to be looking for the home run too much and weren't satisfied with pecking away a little bit."

Perhaps St. Bernard's best chance to put points on the board came on its opening possession of the final half. A nice 20 yard scamper by Marty was followed up by a Figueroa 19 yard completion to Link. After reaching the Nipmuc 23, the Bernardians faced a fourth-and-9. A screen pass to Marty would net the junior a mere three yards forcing a turnover on downs.

On the ensuing possession, Nipmuc strung together a nice drive keyed by a 22 yard run from senior back George Morrice and a 12 yard bootleg by Clark, putting the ball on the St. Bernard's 32. But a direct snap to Clark, out of the shotgun, saw him rumble 12 more yards before the senior took a vicious hit, forcing a fumble that was recovered by St. Bernard's safety Dom Cuevas. Unable to do anything following the turnover, Nipmuc re-gained possession and chewed up 49 yards in the process. However, the drive was put on hold when the Warriors came up short on fourth down.

In spite all of the aforementioned opportunities handed to them, the Bernardians offense could do nothing with them. In the waning minutes, St. Bernard's looked to have one final opportunity after forcing the Warriors into a punting situation. But a roughing the punter penalty by the Bernardians allowed Nipmuc to keep the ball and, in turn, run out the clock.

Clark was instrumental in running the Warriors offense as he rushed for 70 yards and completed six passes for 64 yards. Morrice, who was virtually invisible during the initial half, made his presence felt throughout the closing half, finishing 87 yards. Schiloski, a senior, picked up 40 yards on the ground.

"We knew we couldn't take any chances, especially late," Clark said. "We were getting a little too pass happy in the first half. But I am just so thrilled that we were able to come up here and pull this one out. This was the best team that we've faced this year and it was a hard-fought all throughout. This team showed it has a lot of heart. We have a really great defense and they certainly bailed us out tonight."

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