BRIDGEWATER, Mass. – The fourth of quarter of Friday’s instant classic between No. 1 Barnstable and No. 16 Bridgewater-Raynham was rife with hairpin plot twists and explosions. Every expanding moment brought more drama, heightened tension and – assuredly on both sidelines – greater anxiety. It was the stuff of Jack Bauer tracking down bad guys, MacGyver defusing a bomb threat, or a John Le Carré spy novel. Or maybe it was a little of all those things rolled into one -- and then some.
For whatever you care to call it, in recent memory, the yearly date between the Red Raiders and Trojans has morphed into a de facto championship game for the Old Colony League.
Friday’s edition was but another spellbinding chapter.
Barnstable clung to a 27-25 lead behind an opportunistic defense before putting the game away in the final moments with the Red Raiders tallying their third interception of the game. In the process, Barnstable (8-0, 2-0) claimed its second-straight OCL championship and will return to the postseason, again to face Dual County League large division champion Lincoln-Sudbury in the Div. 1A Eastern Mass playoffs.
“Last year is a distant memory at this point,” Red Raiders head coach Chris Whidden said. “It feels great for this group, these guys have done so much together, and they were obviously a big part of last year, but there’s a pride in what they accomplished today.
“They derserve it. I know every coach can say that the group of kids you have deserve it, but if you really knew these kids, you’d know they truly have done more than most classes would do to get what they got tonight.”
Barnstable showed its defensive mettle after a lack-luster showing against Billerica a week ago.
Jason Frieh (sack, 2 TFL) led the Red Raider defensive line bringing the pressure, but the contributions came from all around. Barnstable’s defense pulled off a unique hat trick of interceptions, with one pick coming from a member at each level of its unit. Frieh seized momentum for the Red Raiders early in the second half with a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, inside linebacker Andrew Ellis collected a pick of his own before free safety Hayden Murphy closed out the victory with an interception with 1:03 remaining.
Frieh’s pick-six extended the Red Raiders’ halftime lead to 21-6, but the Trojans (5-4, 1-1) responded on the ensuing drive in the third with a 10-play, 74-yard drive capped by Jordan Cohen’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Scripter.
Barnstable again made it a two-possession game on Nick Peabody’s second touchdown pass of the game, a 31-yard connection to Tedaro France with 7:31 to play in the fourth.
From there, a dizzying sequence unfolded that was made for an episode of “24”.
Events between the time 7:14 and 4:03 of the fourth quarter included:
An 82-yard kickoff return by B-R’s Ryan Martin, (Score: 27-19, Barnstable, following failed two-point try).
A fumble recovery by the Trojans on Barnstable’s following kickoff return, (Devin Morris’ forced fumble was recovered by Mike Clifford, setting up B-R first and 10 from the Red Raiders’ 20-yard line).
Ellis’ interception, (setting up Barnstable first and 10 at their own 15).
Strip-sack by B-R’s Aaron Conrad with Trojans recovery by Kevin Johnston at the Barnstable 5, (5:33 to play).
2-yard rushing touchdown by Brandon Gallagher, (Score: 27-25, Barnstable, 4:03 remained).
Following that frenetic sequence -- keep in mind there were only seven plays from scrimmage elapsed during that span – Barnstable had a chance at closing out the game by bleeding the clock. But the Red Raiders’ ensuing drive sputtered flat once it hit the 50-yard line. Barnstable was forced to punt, but a masterful 41-yard punt from Ryan Litchman was downed at the Trojans’ 6-yard line.
With a long field to go, B-R went to its 2-minute drill with 1:45 to play. The comeback ended at 1:03 when a last-ditch pass by Cohen was fielded by Murphy.
TEACH ME HOW TO DOUGIE
His dancing acumen aside, ESPN Boston Mr. Football challenger and Barnstable quarterback Nick Peabody showed he’s got moves on the field.
Peabody (12 of 22 passing, 201 yards, 2 TDs) ripped up the carpet on a rambling 54-yard run in the first quarter. After juking a B-R safety into last Friday, Peabody broke down the left sideline before being chased down at the 1-yard line. He plunged into the end zone one play later for Barnstable’s second touchdown of the game.
“We were reading the end on the play, and he kind of flew out with Hayden [Murphy],” Peabody said. “I just saw the hole, I hit it and there was just one safety. I was kind of shocked, I guess I put a move on him.
“Then, to be honest, I was scared I was going to get caught and I got caught on the one-yard line.”
While Peabody will never be mistaken for a Randall Cunningham-like quarterback, he’s still able to make plays with his feet. He ran for 78 yards on 15 carries, including the touchdown. A bulk of those yards came on zone read plays with Peabody pulling back an option to Murphy, who streaks across the field from the slot. It was a bread-and-butter play that Barnstable’s run successfully on Friday and throughout the season.
It’s yet another element that has made the Red Raiders offense so potent.
“We drill it until it makes you sick, but that’s what makes it work,” Peabody said.
If you placed this year’s B-R team in the year 2013, there’s a real possibility the Trojans are playing through a playoff stretch.
While the MIAA playoff proposal has passed, it didn’t come soon enough for the Trojans, who will again challenge for the dubious title of “Best Team in Massachusetts Not Playing past Thanksgiving” this year.
“I look at our team, we’re five-and-four and we’ve lost to two teams that are undefeated, another team in St. John’s Prep that has one loss and La Salle could play with anyone [in Massachusetts],” Trojans head coach Dan Buron said.
Don’t interpret that statement as sour grapes though. Buron was downright grateful following his team’s loss.
It was evidenced on the Trojans’ final offensive play. As his players shuffled – dejected – back to the sideline, Buron met each and every one of them with a pat on the shoulder pads and the message: “Don’t hang your heads.”
“I told the kids they shouldn’t have any regrets and they should be proud,” Buron said of his postgame breakdown with the team. “I’ve never been more proud of a team because there were a couple of times in this game we could’ve folded.”
Barnstable – 14 0 7 6 -- 27
Bridgewater-Raynham – 0 6 7 12 -- 25
B - Dylan Morris 35-yard pass from Nick Peabody (Jason Frieh kick)
B - Peabody 1-yard run (Frieh kick)
B-R – Kevin Wadsworth 11-yard pass from Jordan Cohen (kick failed)
B - Jason Frieh 21-yard interception return (Frieh kick)
B-R - Ryan Scripter 17-yard pass from Cohen (Wadsworth kick)
B - Tedaro France 31-yard pass from Peabody (kick failed)
B-R - Ryan Martin 82-yard kickoff return (pass failed)
B-R - Brandon Gallagher 2-yard run (rush failed)