Saturday, October 7, 2017

Postgame Blog: Shepherd Hill Stops Wachusett at the Goal Line

By Connor Evans (@RonnocEvans)

Tonight we saw a track meet between the hosting Shepherd Hill Rams and the visiting Wachusett Mountaineers. These two teams have legitimate bids for being among the best in CMass football. Tonight these young men put on a spectacular show for everyone at the game. Shepherd Hill would ultimately come from behind to win a nail-biter, 41-40.

Let's break it down.
Q1: The Mountaineers came out with an unexpected aerial attack to open the game. QB Melke Shabo tossed a pair of nice touchdowns in the first quarter.

One was to Liam Griffin  and the other to Barry Walsh to put the Mountaineers up early. The front seven of the Mountaineer defense did a great job not allowing the Double-Wing offense of the Rams to get much traction. Shepherd Hill would find their way onto the board on a nice roll-out play from QB Mitch Sullivan, who found Ben Carpenter for the Rams' first score. 14-7 Wachusett

On a 3rd and 4 from the opposing 36-yard line, Cole Durkan of the Mountaineers would hit a HUGE hole (courtesy of Wachusett's O-line) and find his way into the end zone for his first of many TDs of the night. On the ensuing Shepherd Hill drive, RB John Foley would set up the Rams deep in Wachusett territory, eventually leading to a 30-yard screen pass on 4th and 12 from Sullivan to Adams for a touchdown!

Coming right back at them though were the Mountaineers, as J'Zhon Henderson makes a crazy catch, tipping the ball to himself over a defender's head, and heads into the end zone. The score at this point read 28-14. Q2 wasn't over though. Carpenter of the Rams would rip off a 30-yard TD run to bring Shepherd Hill back within one score. A pair of stops, one for each team, would finally end the point-bleeding and we'd head to the locker room. 28-21 Wachusett

Q3: The rams would receive the ball to open the half but would stall on 4th and 3 as the Mountaineer defense holds. Wachusett would grind the ball all the way down the field setting up another TD run for Durkan. 17-yards to the end zone (PAT No Good). The response from the Rams? A perfectly executed sweep. Lead blockers each picked a man and Nathaniel Cooper would hit the jets as he turned the corner, streaking 69 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

34-28 Wachusett

Q4: A really tight, offensive game often times comes down to a huge play on defense. Evidence of this is tonight's Rams. To open the 4th, Shepherd Hill forced and recovered a fumble, leading to another Cooper touchdown. The PAT would be missed but the game would now be tied for the first time since 0-0. The Mountaineers would then embark on a very methodical, 4:00 long drive. It would be cut short however, as Shepherd Hill would jump on the SECOND fumble of the night. Cooper, who Shepherd Hill Head Coach Dugan said was "just getting sprinkled into the offense for the first time tonight," found the end zone for a 3rd time. The Rams would lead the game for the first time, 41-34 (PAT Good). With 1:42 to play, Wachusett had one last shot to take back the lead. Melke Shabo would drop back and find WIDE OPEN Gavin Manzo who could jog in for a score. What happened next was crazy. The Mountaineers would line up to go for two to win the game, rather than kick the extra point to tie. "Honestly, I applaud Coach Dubzinski for making that call. It showed he had guts. It showed he and his team came here to win," said Coach Dugan afterward. I caught a video of the 2-pt attempt and you can see that here.
The Rams' defense would make their third colossal play in the fourth quarter to secure a victory, stuffing the mountaineers right at the goal line, ultimately deciding the game. 41-40 Shepherd Hill Final

Takeaway for Wachusett:

That's a tough loss. Especially when it's your second in a row. The Mountaineers led the whole game until late in the fourth. As a whole though, the team played quite well. Despite relinquishing 41 points, I actually felt the defense played rather well in-between the tackles. It was clear that the Rams had a desire to run up the middle that Wachusett was not going to hand to them.

I applaud that effort by the D. Where they got beat tonight was on the edge. The sweep plays run by Cooper were kryptonite it seemed, as the outside the tackle blocking by the rams combined with the speed and physicality of Cooper were a real nightmare.

The Mountaineer offense played really well, and I want to take nothing away from them. Durkan ran wild, Walsh had a few nice grabs, the O-Line made holes everywhere for the running backs, and as for Shabo, I will use Coach Dugan's words: "I did not think he was that good [before]. He played a hell of a game. My apologies to him, he played unbelievably."

This loss certainly puts the Mountaineers in a tougher position going forward, but I have every reason to believe they right the ship and make a run into playoffs.

Takeaway for Shepherd Hill:

What a satisfying win. To come from behind and win on a goal-line stand at home… What more could you want?

After a slow start, the Rams came on very strong later in the game. Coach Dugan said after the game "We tell the kids to trust the process. Part of our process is like poking holes in a dam. It's going to be hard at first, but keep poking... eventually the dam is going to break and it's going to be a flood." That dam sure burst open later in the game, and the breaking point seemed to come from Nathaniel Cooper, who came in to replace a pair of major offensive players who were dinged up early on.

"[Tonight] felt amazing. I'd like to thank my coaches and my teammates for putting in the work and the O-Line for putting those blocks in for me," said Cooper when asked about his breakout performance. When I asked Cooper what it was like being in the locker room after a tough first half, he told me about the team's mentality: "We just want to play. We didn't come ready to play in the first half. But the second half, we gave it our all."

Though the Rams allowed a few big plays on blown coverage and 40 total points, this defense showed real hustle and grit, especially in the 4th quarter. The D-Line had great penetration to cause and recover the two fumbles and the LBs and Corners are to thank for that 2-pt conversion stuff that won them the game. Hats-off to them. "What I liked about our team this game was that we responded," said Coach Dugan. As for his comment summing up the emotions of the night: "That's probably one of the best football games I've ever been a part of..." "... I know I've talked a lot but, I'm still speechless."

Congrats Coach, that was a crazy game!

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