FRANKLIN, Mass. -- Brandon Gagliardi’s job all game long was to keep tabs on dangerous Pembroke running back Jon Hooper, so when he saw the Titans senior flare out from the backfield deep in Oliver Ames territory, Gagliardi simply followed his instincts.
The junior stepped in front of the Luke Nagle pass intended for Hooper and went 88 yards the other way for a game-sealing touchdown as his Tigers took a 20-12 decision away from Pembroke in the Div. 3 semifinals at Pisini Field.
Oliver Ames (7-4), making its first postseason appearance in school history, will take on Concord-Carlisle in the Div. 3 Super Bowl this Saturday (9 a.m.) at Gillette Stadium.
“They had me spying their running back and I carried him out to the flat and saw the ball was coming toward me,” Gagliardi said. “I jumped it and once I got past him there was no one there to catch me. The eyes light up and you just try keep running.”
“It feels fantastic,” he continued. “We’ve been working for so long. A lot of these kids have been working since the eighth grade and we always set this as a goal and to finally achieve it is just fantastic.”
It was an earlier big play that had Oliver Ames in that position in the first place. The Titans (10-1) had just taken a 12-6 lead following a 48-yard touchdown run by Hooper (105 yards on 14 carries) with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
Enter Carlton Williamson. The speedy junior took the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to paydirt, and Ryan McGrath’s extra point gave the Tigers their first lead of the game at 13-12.
“I told the kids if you ever need an example to say that’s every facet of the game working for you, that was it,” exclaimed OA coach Jim Artz afterward. “We have a great drive to start the second half, made some adjustments that we needed to go and we go up and made the game 6-6. Then, we feel good and we give up a quick score and no sooner do we do that then Carlton [Williamson] ... I don’t know teams kick him the ball but they do ... he takes another one to the house. Now we’ve got to play with the lead. Then the defense seals the game for us with a pick-6.”
Lost in the shuffle of the Tigers victory was the tough, hard-nosed running of 5-10, 185-pound Sam Langston. Langston went toe to toe with the Titans impressive line and came with 83 tough yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
Pembroke’s Tom Castanha scored the game’s first touchdown, powering his way in from the 2 to cap a nice drive that featured a pair of big completions by Nagle (189 yards). The Titans carried that slim 6-0 advantage into halftime, but Oliver Ames came out of the locker room looking like a different team.
The Tigers forced a Pembroke punt right off the bat, then 90 yards on an 18-play drive that was aided by 29 yards of Pembroke penalties. Langston got the call from the Titans two-yard line and seemingly pushed the entire pile into the end zone for the tying score.
“I have to thank my big fullbacks Dean [Soucie] and Brian [Rezendes]. They got the big push in there and I just had to get my arms in and that was it,” Langston said of the touchdown. "They were a good defense, I have to give threm thast. It was tough and we had a few adjustments we had to make in the beginning but in the end we figured out what we needed to do.”
For Artz, it was all about keeping his team poised despite being unfamiliar with the postseason stage.
“We’ve got a young staff and kids who haven’t played in a game this big before,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m the raving lunatic on the sideline and tonight I was the only voice of reason and calm and everyone else was losing their heads. I said ‘Guys, its a 6-0 game, we played pretty badly and its 6-0. If we come out and do the things we’re capable of, we’ll win this game. So lets calm down, coaches included, and we’ll be fine.' We could have panicked but we didn’t.”
PEMBROKE 20, OLIVER AMES 12
Oliver Ames (7-4) 0 0 13 7 - 20
Pembroke (10-1) 0 6 6 0 - 12
PE - Tom Castanha 2 run (kick failed)
OA - Sam Langston 2 run (kick blocked)
PE - Jon Hooper 48 run (pass failed)
OA - Carlton Williamson 82 kick return (Ryan McGrath kick)
OA - Brandon Gagliardi 88 interception return (McGrath kick)