PLYMOUTH, Mass. -– Plymouth North head coach Dwayne Follette tried to downplay the significance and the motivation behind the win, but senior running back Matt Walsh took it personal.
Under a full moon and a chilly October night with temperatures in the 30s, the No. 22 Blue Eagles shocked No. 7 Falmouth, 28-7, in front of a standing-room only, homecoming crowd and sent the previously unbeaten Clippers' packing in a defining Atlantic Coast League battle.
Forced to play their home games at rival Plymouth South's field a few miles away due to construction, the defense didn't seem to care as they held Falmouth to 11 yards on only 13 plays from scrimmage in the first half alone.
Walsh finished with 102 of the 174 rushing yards for the Eagles on 16 carries and was referring to last season's 41-0 rout at the hands of Falmouth when he said the seniors wanted to “punch them in the mouth” with a victory. With the win, Plymouth North (5-2, 2-0) remains unbeaten in league play and with a 15-0 win last week over the defending league champion Marshfield, this victory puts the Eagles' at the head of the pack with three winnable league games left on the schedule.
“Every time I got the ball there were holes everywhere, it wasn't just one hole at a time,” Walsh said. “[Assistant] Coach [Carl] Freyemuth told us this was a big game and we were hyped up beating Marshfield and we knew coming in we needed at least two turnovers and I think we got more then that.”
The Plymouth North defense caused six turnovers overall converting the first three Clippers' miscues into touchdowns in the first two quarters of play.
Plymouth North (5-2, 2-0) was staked to a 14-0 lead in the first 8:43 of play as the Eagles cashed in two forced fumbles for touchdown on Falmouth's first two series. The two turnovers set up Plymouth North with great field position, with the first opportunity coming at the Clippers' 24-yard line after a Mike Cahill fumble recovery.
After two Walsh rushes got Plymouth North to the 11-yard line, quarterback Cody Merritt scored on an 11-yard keeper right up the middle of the Falmouth defense. Falmouth's Jonah Olsen burst off the right end untouched and blocked Vinny Tavernelli's extra point attempt to hold the score at 6-0.
But the momentum never changed as on the very next series, the Clippers' second fumble was on the ground on only the second play from scrimmage. This set up the Eagles' with even better field position inside the red zone at the Falmouth 14-yard line.
Last week's offensive star Zach Zaniboni was credited with the recovery and four plays later, Matty Walsh scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns from two yards out and then Merritt converted the two-point conversion on a swing pass to Walsh for the 14-0 lead.
“We haven't been getting many turnovers and we got a lot of turnovers tonight and we turned them into scores, so it was great we executed,” Eagles head coach Dwayne Follette said. “The defense played awesome again but our offense played real well tonight, got some big plays, and turned the short fields into scores and that was the difference.”
After the two teams exchanged three-and-outs, Merritt turned around to the defensive side of the ball and picked off the Clippers' Dillon Mansfield at the start of the second quarter to set up the third Eagles' score.
The Eagles methodically ate up over nine-plus minutes of the second half on a 12-play drive – not including a spinning 27-yard run from Zaniboni that was negated on a holding call - that culminated on a fourth-and-one plunge from Walsh with only 50 seconds left before the half. As the teams dispersed for halftime, Plymouth North was firmly in control, 21-0.
“We had a good week of practice and everyone was on key,” Walsh added. “We played hard the whole game we didn't give up and we gave it all we could”.
The nightmare continued for Falmouth (5-1, 1-1) as they coughed up the ball on their next two possessions of the second half and lost two-sport star Nelson Baptiste to an undisclosed injury before the second stanza started.
Plymouth North smelled blood in the water as Zaniboni had his second fumble recovery and the fifth Falmouth turnover turned into a picture-perfect hook and ladder between Merritt and Liam Cosgrove with the final pitch going to Bobby Savoia for the 32-yard touchdown.
Before Falmouth knew the second half whistle was fired off, the Eagles offense posted 28 unanswered points with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter.
Olsen took it upon himself to ruin a second consecutive Atlantic Coast League shutout for the Eagles with a 40-yard scamper on a sweep to the right as he outran four would be tacklers with 9:03 remaining in regulation.
Said Follette: “We have three league games left and every week you play for controlling your own destiny. We talked (last season's loss) up, but this was a big enough game that we didn't need the extra motivation, but [Falmouth head coach] Steve [Femino] is a great guy, he addressed our team [post-game], he's a class act but we won –- we played the better game”.
Falmouth goes back over the Sagamore Bridge to lick their wounds in anticipation of next week's battle with Marshfield, which will essentially knock one of the two ACL powerhouses out of contention for this year's Division 2A Super Bowl playoffs. Plymouth North goes on the road to face non league foe, Barnstable, in a tune up for the remainder of the league schedule.
The rest of the schedule includes road games against Sandwich and the always dangerous Dennis-Yarmouth before the season-ending tilt with in-town rival Plymouth South at the annual Thanksgiving Day battle.
FALMOUTH (5-1) 0 0 0 7 -- 7
PLYMOUTH NORTH (5-2) 14 7 7 0 -- 28
PN – Cody Merritt 11 run (kick blocked)
PN – Matty Walsh 2 run (Walsh from Merritt)
PN – Walsh 1 run (Vinny Tavernelli kick)
PN – Bobby Savoia 32 pass from Merritt (Tavernelli kick)
FA – Jonah Olsen 40 run (Tyrone Reine kick)