FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For a brief moment late in regulation, Everett's quest to win a third straight Super Bowl was in serious jeopardy.
“Honestly, this one's been more stressful than any of the previous 10,” Everett head coach John DiBiaso said Saturday after his No. 2 Crimson Tide clinched the Eastern Mass. Division 1A title at frigid Gillette Stadium, 20-19, against No. 1 Barnstable. “I am emotionally, physically, mentally drained.”
Factors that caused DiBiaso to admit exhaustion included five turnovers committed by Everett (11-1), a fortuitous missed fourth-quarter extra point that kept Barnstable from forcing a 20-all, and Kenny Calaj's near fumble while the three-peat champs were killing the clock.
“I knew I was down because I felt my elbow hit the ground,” said Calaj, who intercepted standout quarterback Nick Peabody on Barnstable's previous, and final, offensive possession. “That's when it popped out.”
In real time, it appeared Calaj fumbled with 79 seconds to play. Kevin Hardy pounced on the football. Barnstable (11-1) prepared to take over roughly 30 yards from paydirt – and perfection.
But the officials – without the benefit of replay – quickly convened and ruled Calaj down by contact. The stadium scoreboard showed the replay, and it confirmed Calaj's interpretation of the play.
“It was tough to be on the end of it that we were,” Barnstable head coach Chris Whidden said of the call that saved the Tide from a sixth turnover.
Barnstable – which vaulted to No. 1 with its 13-7 double overtime upset of Everett on Sept. 28 – wasn't without its chances, however. The Red Raiders capitalized on just one of the turnovers they forced. Peabody fired a 9-yard first-quarter touchdown to Tedaro France (3 receptions, 93 yards, 3 TD) that pulled the Red Raiders within 7-6.
After France caught Peabody's perfect back-shoulder throw, the Tide caught their first break. A bad point-after snap led to a failed run.
Jakarrie Washington (9 carries, 121 yards, 2 TD) reclaimed momentum for Everett early in the second. Showing excellent vision, he saw a gap along the right edge, cut back before the hole closed, and raced 53 yards down the sideline.
Washington's 6-yard run inside the right pylon pushed Everett's lead to two touchdowns late in the third.
Barnstable's feverish comeback started with 15 seconds left in the frame – and just 44 seconds after Gilly De Souza split the uprights for a 20-6 lead.
Peabody hit France on a sideline route, and the receiver did the rest. He stayed upright after tangling feet with his press-coverage defender, made the catch, then beat De Souza to the goal line on the strength of a sensational maneuver at the 35.
Everett's fourth-quarter false start on fourth-and-1 led to a punt. Peabody (8-for-28, 205 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) orchestrated a three-play drive that led to points. The QB eluded multiple defenders, buying time for France to slip past the secondary and make a wide-open 30-yard TD grab with 7:26 to go.
Dereck Pacheco's PAT attempt had the height. But it was off-target.
“It's never one kid's fault. It's never the offense, defense or special teams. You win games like this as a team, you lose games like this as a team. Our kids are as strong as they've ever been.”
The Tide? They're just a little bit stronger.
“We earned it. We worked hard all season long, worked hard for the past three years,” Washington said. “We just proved that we're the best.”
EVERETT'S 'D' EARNS AN 'A'
Josh Palmer and Calaj each intercepted Barnstable's gunslinger signal-caller, and both picks were critical in the outcome.
Palmer's INT turned into a 30-yard TD return on the game's seventh play from scrimmage. Calaj ended Barnstable's last-ditch effort.
Those plays were set up by teammates who pressured Peabody without being touched once the ball was snapped.
C.J. Parvelus set up the pick-six with a well-timed blitz. Everett's linebacker rushed untouched over center and forced a quick release by Peabody. The soft, 5-yard toss was intended for France, but Palmer jumped the rout.
Defensive end Jeff Soulouque exploded off the right edge in the final minutes. Peabody felt the pressure and rolled out of the pocket.
“I saw him (off the snap) and said, 'I have to get him. I have to at least make him feel uncomfortable because he is a great quarterback,'” Soulouque said. “I ran him down, he felt uncomfortable and threw it for an interception.”
MOVING THE CHAINS
Overshadowed by the five turnovers was Everett's ability to extend drives. Fueled by Washington's 121-yard performance, the Tide converted third downs at a 40-percent clip (4 of 10).
By contrast, Barnstable was 1-for-12 on third down (8 percent).
“I thought we moved the ball on offense well. We ran the ball real well,” said DiBiaso, who called the numbers of Jalen Felix (12 carries, 40 yards), quarterback Raheem Wingard (11-10), Joey White (7-25) and Calaj (10-31). “We just made some stupid, stupid mistakes.”
No. 2 Everett 20, No. 1 Barnstable 19
Everett (11-1) 7-6-7-0 – 20
Barnstable (11-1) 6-0-7-6 – 19
E – Josh Palmer 30 INT return (Gilly DeSouza kick), 7:32
B – Tedaro France 9 pass from Nick Peabody (run failed), 2:42
E – Jakarrie Washington 53 run (kick failed), 9:31
E – Washington 6 run (DeSouza kick), 1:09
B – France 76 pass from Peabody (Dereck Pacheco), :15
B – France 30 pass from Peabody (kick failed), 7:26