SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. -- Late in the fourth quarter of what was turning into a big win for his Dennis-Yarmouth squad, quarterback Matt Montalto dove for a first down in the Nauset red zone, and the sub 6-footer engaged in a short shoving match with the Warriors' UConn-bound linebacker, 240-pound senior Brendan Battles.
A few plays later, Dylan Hodsdon put the finishing touches on the scoring drive, and the game was in hand. Montalto was then asked post-game about the "Game Over" message written on his eye black strips, and he merely offered a sheepish grin as he motioned towards the scoreboard.
It's that kind of spunk that's embodied this team -- undersized, yet tough and unafraid to confront -- and has led the Dolphins to this, a 27-15 win over their Thanksgiving rivals that wrapped up a perfect 11-0 regular season, their second straight outright Atlantic Coast League title, and their second straight Division 2A playoff berth (and second ever).
This also marked the first time in the rivalry that the league title was directly on the line. But in a snap, Montalto was already moving on to Tuesday night's playoff game with the No. 18 Walpole Rebels.
"It was definitely a little bit different of a feeling than it usually is on Thanksgiving," Montalto said. "It feels great to win, awesome to win, I always love winning on Thanksgiving. But like coach [Paul Funk] said, our season starts on Tuesday now. It's do or die."
Montalto carried the day with another Montalto-like performance, carrying the ball 11 times for 101 yards and throwing for another 50 through the air, including 42 and a score to his favorite target Damion Johnson.
D-Y (11-0, 6-0) found success early through the air on familiar patterns, with Johnson sitting on 10 and 15-yard comeback routes against zone coverage. They marched right down the field to open the game, capping a 10-play, 64-yard drive with a 13-yard goal line fade from Montalto to Johnson at the back pylon for a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
The Warriors responded soundly on the ensuing drive, marching all the way to the Dolphins' 11 with rushes from brothers Derrick (22 carries, 86 yards, TD) and Nathan Holmes (18 carries, 81 yards, TD). But on fourth down, Mike Messersmith's field goal attempt fell way short and was scooped up by Johnson at the goal line; he juked a half-dozen defenders in between the hashes for a 60-yard return that set up first and 10 at the Warriors' 42.
It took just five plays to capitalize, with Montalto setting up a one-yard Joe Furness plunge with a nifty scamper around the right side. On a designed bootleg left, Montalto ran into some pressure from Battles and reversed direction, turning a two-yard loss into a 34-yard run that was ruled down at the one as he attempted to dive over the pylon. Terrio's kick gave the Dolphins a 14-0 lead with just nine minutes player in the game.
Johnson also added a 50-yard kickoff return and 37 rushing yards, giving him over 200 all-purpose yards for the day.
The Dolphins scored twice more in the second half, and put the clamps down defensively behind linebacker Hunter Oppedisano (two sacks) and nose guard Tommy Kennedy. Until the Warriors' final scoring drive with under five minutes in the game, the Warriors had been held to just 26 yards of offense in the second half.
The Drive: The backbreaker for this one came in the third quarter, when the Dolphins put together an 11-play six-minute, 99-yard scoring drive after a beautiful Nauset punt pinned them at their own half-yard line.
Furness capped the drive with an 18-yard scamper around the left, but it was a series of jet sweeps that opened things up on the drive. First, Hodsdon came around the right from his own 14 and carved up 18 yards. Two plays later, Funk sent Rufus Hamilton in motion to the left, and he sprinted up the left sideline for a 28-yard gain. Two plays after that, they went to the left side again, this time with Quan Lovett, to set up another first down.
"We knew we could get the perimeter," Funk said. "We knew we were faster than they were, and we knew we could get the perimeter. That was the game plan for the second half."
Oppedisano finishes 'em off: If the Dolphins' 99-yard drive swung momentum, then Oppedisano drove the stake into the ground on the ensuing Nauset possession. Five plays into the drive, on first and 10 from the Dolphins' 39, Derrick Holmes took a direct snap for a sweep left, but Oppedisano slipped through the B-gap and took him down for a six-yard loss. The next play, Oppedisano sacked Nathan Holmes for a 10-yard loss, setting up third and 26 from the Nauset 45 when play resumed for the fourth quarter.
Two consecutive false starts then gave Nauset a surreal third and 36 from its own 35, and they punted a play later.
"They just looked away from me, and I took advantage of it, and caught them blindside," Oppedisano said bluntly.
Said Funk, "Hunter's a really good player. He works really hard, he's done some really good things, and he's tough. He's physical. They brought their game in the second half."
Singled out: Keith Kenyon's rebuilding job at Nauset included the installation of the Single-Wing offense, a scheme popular in the first half of the 20th century that has since fallen out of favor as the passing game has evolved. Elements and principles of the scheme still exist in offenses such as the ones run by Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez; but Kenyon's scheme is the formation at its roots.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Battles lined up as an off-set fullback behind one of the guards, brought the play from the sideline into the huddle, and called the cadence. Both Holmes brothers lined up in various places in the backfield, ready for a direct snap or a handoff from Battles or their brother, sometimes accompanied by a flanker.
With tight splits, unbalanced lines, and an intimidating lead blocker in Battles -- a state wrestling champion who sometimes left his feet to take down the first player up the gap -- it's a tough offense to stop once it gets going. But a month earlier, the Dolphins shut down Marshfield by deploying a Buddy Ryan-esque 50 Eagle front against the Rams' run-heavy Wing-T offense, and that appeared to help them out this morning.
"Definitely, [but] you've just got to be physical up front," Oppedisano said. "You've got to take on the block by Battles and you've got to work hard."
Funk thought it came down to getting to the point of attack.
"That's what we talked about at halftime -- we've got to get off the ball," Funk said. "And we absolutely did in the second half."
Scouting the Rebels: D-Y quarterbacks coach Nick Montalto, older brother of Matt, was spotted in the stands at the Walpole-Natick game two weeks ago. Asked what his brother told him about Walpole, Matt offered up a Belichickian response.
"What he told me is they're tough," Matt said. "Playoffs are always going to be tough, though. We're looking forward to it."
Turkey Day Honors: For Dennis-Yarmouth, Hodsdon (72 rushing yards) took home Offensive Player of the Game honors, while Oppedisano took home the Defensive Player of the Game award. Nauset's Nathan and Derrick Holmes took the team's offensive and defensive awards, respectively.
DENNIS-YARMOUTH 27, NAUSET 15
NAU (7-4, 5-1) 0 - 7 - 0 - 8 --- 15
D-Y (11-0, 6-0) 14 - 0 - 7 - 6 --- 27
D - Damion Johnson 13 pass from Matt Montalto (John Terrio kick) 6:23
D - Joe Furness 1 run (Terrio kick) 1:08
N - Derrick Holmes 1 run (Mike Messersmith kick) 3:36
D - Furness 18 run (Terrio kick) 2:35
D - Dylan Hodsdon 5 run (kick failed) 5:41
N - Nathan Holmes 11 run (D. Holmes run) 0:04