Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lincoln-Sudbury Continues Run to D2 Super Bowl

By Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN)

SUDBURY – The Lincoln-Sudbury Warriors’ 2017 campaign has been defined by some uncharacteristically lopsided victories in all shapes and sizes. 

And yet to put this one in perspective, head coach Tom Lopez couldn’t find a better defensive performance than what took place on the frigid Myers Field turfFriday night.

North Andover quarterback Jake McElroy (205 scrimmage yards, TD) made plenty of noise evading the Warriors’ front seven, but the Scarlet Knights also turned the ball over on downs twice in the red zone, while L-S churned out a monster drive late to cap a 27-7 win and capture its first MIAA Division 2 North Final.

“We’ve had good defensive games against teams that were not nearly as strong as North Andover,” Lopez said. “And so I think being able play this well against a really good opponent is hopefully going to help us in three weeks.”

With the win, L-S (10-0) moves on to face defending state champ King Philip in the D2 Final, Dec. 2 at Gillette Stadium. It marks the program’s first-ever appearance at Gillette, and its first time playing for an MIAA championship at a designated home stadium of the New England Patriots since 1989, when the Warriors beat Mansfield in a Division 3 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl at Sullivan Stadium.

“You gotta give the kids credit,” Lopez said. “They played very well, they’ve been focused all year, it’s a really fun team to coach.”

Leading 14-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, L-S’ Pete Rizzotti batted down a fourth-down pass intended for North Andover star Gabe De Souza to give the Warriors a new drive at their own 21 yard line. The Warriors marched 79 yards in 15 plays and eight minutes, scoring on a three-yard James Dillon (13 carries, 67 yards, 2 TD) run, to take a 21-7 lead. 

Four straight Knights incompletions deep in their own territory gave the Warriors the ball again just 23 yards from the end zone, and they tacked on one more score on a Braden O’Connell (12 carries, 138 yards, TD) keeper for a three-score advantage with 1:12 to go.

After Kyle Smith batted down a would-be touchdown pass on fourth down to open the second quarter, the Warriors marched quickly downfield for the game’s first score. Braden O’Connell called his own number up the right sideline, juking and shaking his way to a 48-yard scamper, and that was followed immediately by a 15-yard touchdown run by Andrew Marshall (12 carries, 111 yards, TD), in which the fullback bulldozed his way to the right pylon for a 7-0 advantage with seven minutes to go in the half.

North Andover responded just 38 seconds later with two beautiful passes from McElroy. First, the quarterback found J.D. Allen deep down the left seam off of jet sweep play action. That was followed up with a 26-yard scoring strike to Darren Watson on a slant over the deep middle to even it at 7-7.

The Warriors got in one more good punch before the half with James Dillon capping a 12-play, 66-yard drive that took five and a half minutes with a four-yard toss sweep on fourth and 1, to go up 14-7.


Late in the game, De Souza was rushed off the field to Boston Children’s Hospital for a cardiac evaluation. De Souza fell in a heap, with no contact, just a few steps after cleanly fielding a kickoff with 1:12 to go in the contest. Both teams immediately cleared the field as medics rushed to the scene.

“On previous play [an L-S point-after field goal attempt], he took a shot to ribs, and then he stayed  on the field,” Knights head coach John Dubzinski said. “When I saw him out there, he said ‘I just blacked out. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t breathe’. When I came out there, he was really struggling to breathe. It was really scary. We pray for the best, but he did not look good.”

With just 1:12 to go and the L-S lead in hand, play did not resume and the game was called.


Lopez was very blunt about the focus of his defensive gameplan – stop De Souza.

“We saw De Souza on a series of films and he kept making catches in double and triple teams, and they kept going to him,” Lopez said. “We said, if we’re going to lose this game, it’s not going to be because of De Souza. We’re going to lose because of somebody else.”

And to do so, the Warriors deployed an unorthodox technique. Rizzotti, a talented lacrosse player headed to Dartmouth College next year, drew the duties of marking De Souza all over the field. And specifically for this particular matchup, Lopez had Rizzotti use a “bump and shuffle” technique, in which a defender lines up in man-to-man with his back completely turned to the quarterback with his chest facing the sideline. 

The technique – brought to popularity by Nick Saban at Alabama and Kirby Smart at Georgia – is intended to get cornerbacks to accelerate quickly against faster receivers, rather than run the risk of losing a step that sometimes comes with a backpedal.

The strategy worked brilliantly. De Souza was held to just one catch on four targets, for 11 yards, and Rizzotti recorded two passes defended – including the fourth-down pass breakup at the start of the fourth quarter that yielded L-S’ monster game-sealing drive the other way.

“We felt that that was the best technique against De Souza,” Lopez said. “We don’t use it all the time, but against De Souza…and we’re also helping, we basically put two guys on de Souza the whole game. We decided, if they’re going to beat us, it’s not going to be with No. 3.”


NA          0              7              0              0              ---           7
LS            0              14           0              13           ---           27

Second quarter
L – Andrew Marshall 15 run (Joey Caloeiro kick) 7:34
N – Darren Watson 26 pass from Jake McElroy (Gabe De Souza kick) 6:56
L – James Dillon 4 run (Caloeiro kick) 1:12

Fourth Quarter
L – Dillon 3 run (Caloeiro kick) 2:52
L – Braden O’Connell 5 run (kick failed) 1:12

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