EVERETT, Mass. -- Springfield Central understands the realization that teams from Western Mass. do not get the same kind of respect as those who hail from the eastern half of the Commonwealth. Afterall, the only way to gain respect is to earn it.
Friday night it appeared as though the Golden Eagles took a positive step in that direction.
Although Central came out on the short end of a hardfought 31-23 decision to the Crimson Tide, Everett coaches and players alike came away with the understanding that the Golden Eagles can now sit at the table among the state's elite programs.
“They’re a great team,” said defensive tackle Josh Palmer, who flourished on the defensive side for the Crimson Tide all night long and forced a key fumble midway through the third quarter. “They’re very humble and don’t talk trash. I knew I needed to make big plays tonight because I really wanted to win this. A lot of people thought we would lose this so I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
Echoing Palmer's sentiments, there were many who did feel this might be a rebuilding year for Everett (1-0). This off-season, the Crimson Tide needed to replace their entire offensive line and fill the void left by some primary offensive weapons who graduated.
But when you are a program as tradition-rich as Everett is, winners of three straight Eastern Mass. Super Bowls, you don’t rebuild, you reload. A daunted running attack spurred the Crimson Tide in this one. Senior back Joe D’Onofrio led a strong ground assault, rushing for 143 yards on 16 carries and 1 TD. When D’Onofrio wasn’t summond to push the ball upfield, Everett looked to junior Jonathan Freitas, who bullied his was for 89 tough yards.
“I thought our backs ran very well, especially in the second half,” Everett coach John DiBiaso said. “We know Springfield Central is a very good team and we are very lucky to come out with the result that we did. I thought our defense as a whole did a good job. It was sort of a bend but don’t break defense tonight. Williams is a great player for them you we probably aren’t going to run into a much-better quarterback in high school other than him.”
While the Crimson Tide did most of their damage on the ground, the Golden Eagles did theirs through the air. Highly-touted senior quarterback Cody Williams looked in mid-season form, riddling the Crimson Tide defense having passed for 304 yards on 21-of-33 attempts and 3 touchdowns. Williams, engineering the spread offense, also did it with his feet, rushing for 72 yards on 12 carries.
“We know Everett is a great team but I feel we came out and showed them what Western Mass. has,” said Williams, who is committed to Monmouth University. “We came out and gave it all we got.”
Last year, Central lost to Everett in its season opener and went on to win 11 straight, culminating in a Division 1 Western Mass. Super Bowl victory. Williams believes it could be déjà vu all over again this year.
“We’re not losing anymore this year,” he said. “We still plan to go to the (Division 2) state championship and play it one game at a time and one practice at a time.”
After a scoreless opening quarter, the Crimson Tide got on the board first at 10:23 of the second frame as C.J. Parvelus hauled in a 5 yard scoring pass from quarterback Raheem Wingard. Five minutes later, the Golden Eagle answered with Williams connecting with Tysean Williams in the end zone to knot the game at 7-7.
With under a minute to go before halftime, Everett re-took the lead at 14-7 thanks to D’Onofrio’s 19 yard scamper. However, Central made a final second push to set up Ju’an Williams’ 36 yard field goal to make it a four point game.
On their first possession of the second half, the Golden Eagles grabbed their first lead. Marching 94 yards and facing a third down at the Everett 20 yard line, the Everett defense forgot to cover receiver Malik Johnson, who was left wide open for a 20 yard scoring catch putting Central ahead 17-14 with 7:21 left to go in the third.
This tilt had its share of miscues by both clubs. Ill-advised penalties, wrong substitution packages and forgetting plays were evident throughout. One of the biggest mistakes of the evening came with 3:31 of the third. With the Golden Eagles in the shadow of their own goal post, a bad snap went out of the back of the end zone resulting in a safety for Everett, who now trailed by a point.
“We had a lot of guys where this was their first game against a strong team in Everett,” Central coach Valdamar Brower said. “Hopefully we got some things out of our system tonight. Now these kids have some experience under their best and who better to play again and have that experience then Everett. There were still a lot of good things to take away from this game. We’re going to grow from this. We have a lot of confidence but we need to stay humble and hungry.”
Getting the ball back following the safety, the Crimson Tide needed just two plays to move back in front. Wingard’s 60 yard pitch and catch to Michael Lopes followed by Freitas’ conversion run had Everett now ahead 24-17. The Crimson Tide managed to extend the advantage to 31-17 early in the fourth on a Marquis Holman 8 yard carry.
But Central (0-1) would not go quietly. Following the touchdown, Williams completed four passes as part of a 76 yard drive with the final completion being a 31 yard scoring pass to Johnson with 5:37 to go.
But that would be the last time Central would touch the ball. Everett was able to convert three key first downs to run out the clock.