ROCKLAND, Mass. -– It was Abington’s chance to turn the nuts, bolts, and screws on Rockland on their home turf.
The Green Wave avenged last year's nationally recognized loss to the Bulldogs with a come-from-behind 14-10 road victory at Memorial Field as Abington quarterback Brandon Cawley scored on a one-yard, quarterback sneak with only 38 seconds left in regulation for the game-winning touchdown.
With the win, Abington stays in the hunt for the South Shore League title. But with last week’s loss to Mashpee, the Green Wave will need some help to make the postseason as the season winds down.
Abington played a first half to forget with three turnovers in six possessions with a botched kickoff return, a fumble at the line of scrimmage, and an interception from Cawley as Rockland (2-5; 0-4 South Shore) held a slim 10-0 lead at the break. The Green Wave managed 46 total yards on only 17 plays from scrimmage.
“It wasn’t like a six shooter but a bazooka that we were shooting at our foot and digging so many mistakes,” said Abington head coach Jim Kelliher. "It was the worse half blatantly I’ve seen from our football team since playing Hanover in the first game of the season but I said ‘we were only ten points behind so let’s just do our thing and we will be ok’”.
Cawley, the Green Wave’s junior signal caller, was stifled in the first half with a paltry 1-of-4 passing, including the pick, for only 11 yards but came up huge in the second half, especially big on the game-winning drive.
“It wasn’t so much the adjustments that we made (at halftime), we just talked and said ‘forget about the first half and relax’,” said Kelliher, who is in his 38th year at the helm and now sits at 211 wins dating back to 1974. “We knew we were going to get the ball in the second half and let’s see what we can do and play our brand of football and minimize mistakes.”
Abington (5-2; 3-1) fell just short in the second half’s opening drive after Cawley threw an incompletion to force a turnover on downs at the Bulldogs 17-yard line.
But after a Bulldogs’ three-and-out, Abington took advantage of some great field position and scored quickly on a six-play drive highlighted by sophomore Matt Kilmain’s running which produced 25 yards on only three carries. On second-and–six from the 16-yard line, Cawley slipped a sure-fire sack and rolled right to find Joe Buckley in the back of the end zone for the Green Wave's first touchdown. The Cawley-Buckley combination capped off the drive with a two-point conversion in a carbon copy, rollout right to the back of the end zone to cut the deficit to two, 10-8.
Rockland’s offense, which was moving the ball with ease through the air with quarterback Ricky Witt in the first half, was stymied for the final two quarters of play. Witt had 99 yards on 7-of-14 first-half passing, but could not jump start the offense in the second stanza and the Bulldogs were forced to punt again.
After forcing Rockland to punt on fourth-and-18 from their own 37-yard line, the 12-play, game-winning scoring drive started with 6:51 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. On second-and-eight from the 49-yard line, Babila Fonkem, who racked up 68 yards on 16 carries, ran off right tackle for a seven-yard gain which merited the chains to roll on the field but the Green Wave fell short.
On third-and-inches, Fonkem was stuffed for no gain by the Bulldogs defensive front, which played well in the trenches throughout the entire game. On fourth-and-inches and the game clock running under four minutes to play, Kelliher was certainly nervous.
“Everybody says ‘to win football games, you have to be able to run the ball’ and that’s the truth,” said Kelliher. “I was nervous there, but at least we had given ourselves a chance and that’s all we can want in the fourth quarter – keep yourself in the ballgame and give yourself a chance.”
Cawley called his own number and dove the length of a half of the pigskin to secure the first down and barely continue the drive.
“It was getting close and coach just said, ‘Put your head down and get as much yards as you can and it worked,” said Cawley.
Cawley’s number was called again on third-and-goal from the one and the junior quarterback delivered again with a dive up the middle for the game’s final score and a sigh of relief from the Abington faithful.
“I’ve been involved in this game for 50 years with Rockland, coaching, playing; my dad was one of the better players too. I love (the rivalry)," said Kelliher.
He added, “I don’t care who we have next week (Hull), we have four games left and they will all be tough. When it comes time to worry, don’t you worry, I’ll worry."
"Nuts and bolts, we got screwed": Almost a year-to-the-date last season with the first place in the South Shore League on the line, Abington scored a defensive touchdown on what appeared to be a backwards lateral pass from Rockland quarterback D.J. Austin only to have it ruled an incomplete pass. The nullified touchdown would have padded the Green Wave’s lead but Rockland went on to win the game, 21-12, with two more touchdowns after taking the defensive score off the board.
Local cable access announcers went ballistic and were featured on national sports websites throughout the country for their hilarious take on the action.
The home loss for Abington was their first since 2004, but Kelliher knows everyone looks back on the game –- and the play-by-play call -- for fun and laughs, despite the implications at the time.
“I like to call it 'The Game' now, we have fun with it no doubt," said Kelliher. “I hear 'nuts and bolts' all the time, we laugh about it, it was controversial at the time -- but you joke about it and back when I’m 75 or 80 years old I’ll laugh about it then too.”
ABINGTON 14, ROCKLAND 10
ABI (5-2; 3-1) 0 - 0 - 8 - 6 - - 14
ROC (2-5; 0-4) 0 - 10 - 0 - 0 - - 10
R - Ricky Witt 37 field goal
R - Tyler Eaton 8 run (Witt kick)
A - Joe Buckley 16 pass from Brandon Cawley (Buckley pass from Cawley)
A - Cawley 1 run (pass failed)