WESTWOOD, Mass. – At the end of a double-overtime, 43-41 win over archrival and traditional Thanksgiving Day foe Holliston, firework shells exploded overhead Westwood quarterback Bo Berluti.
It was the eve of “Westwood Day” and it appeared the entire populous of the leafy suburb had spilled out onto the turf at Flahive Field. Encircling Berluti was a gaggle of pint-sized youth football players, chanting, “Bo! Bo! Bo!”
The postgame fireworks were merely a coincidence, prompting one parent in passing to comment: “This would’ve had a different feel had they lost.” But they didn’t. All together, it seemed as though the Wolverines had already lost several times over. Yet, somehow, they avoided demise at every turn.
Like Robert Redford rounding the bases under popping stadium lights in “The Natural,” it was pure magic, and the Wolverines’ star receiver-turned-signal-caller had a hand in it all.
The ball was in Berluti’s hands on the two-point conversion to tie the game with less than a minute to play in regulation.
It was in his hands when Westwood faced certain loss with a fourth-down situation and 25 yards to go. And, when Berluti somehow dialed up the perfect touchdown play to Chris Hanley to tie the game once again, he took it into his own hands to finish the job, converting his third two-point conversion try of the game.
“The composure that kid had at the end was just unbelievable,” senior running back/defensive back Dan Roache said of Berluti. “And Chris Hanley, it’s his first year playing varsity, comes up huge. It’s just hard to describe it right now.”
Berluti accounted for three touchdowns total (two passing, one rushing) and factored directly in 24 of the Wolverines’ 43 points. He ran for 166 yards on 29 carries, while throwing for 89 yards.
Of course, it wasn’t a one-man production. Roache was a wrecking ball in between the tackles, rushing for 160 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns. He initiated contact and, oftentimes, was seen carrying a gang of would-be Panthers tacklers draped on his shoulders.
But there was something more to this victory, some kind of universal accord that, no matter what the situation, Westwood (3-1, 2-0 Tri-Valley League) simply was not to lose.
Holliston (4-1, 1-1) overcame a 15-0 deficit to earn its first lead early in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by Nick Athy. The Panthers proceeded to make it a two-possession game on Matthew Jeye’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Zach Elkinson (his second of three).
On the evening, Jeye completed 12 of 26 pass attempts for 270 yards.
But, not to be outdone, Berluti clawed the Wolverines closer with perhaps his biggest play of the night, ripping off a zig-zagging 53-yard touchdown run to make it 29-21 Holliston with 2:36 to play in the third.
Westwood tied the game in regulation on the heels of a 16-play, 67-yard drive, kick started on a Chris Eldridge fumble recovery. The drive culminated in Roache’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal with 21 seconds remaining.
Roache went on to score his third touchdown of the game in the opening overtime session, battling across the line from two yards out. However, Westwood’s 2-point conversion run by Berluti fell a yard short.
The Panthers promptly answered on Jeye’s 4-yard touchdown run, but let a chance to win the game slip through their fingers on a missed point-after try.
Holliston also scored on the next possession, with Jeye hitting Elkinson on a 10-yard pass. But again, a missed two-point try opened the door for the Wolverines.
The ensuing Westwood possession was an unmitigated disaster. The series unfolded with a holding penalty wiping out a certain Roache touchdown run, a run for a 3-yard loss followed by a 3-yard gain and a false start penalty.
That left Berluti staring down one last chance at the end zone from 25 yards away.
“We’d practiced that route all week,” Berluti said. “We knew that when we gave them that formation they had nobody in the middle of the field. So I looked at him, gave him the sign – usually, he gives me the sign. And I said, ‘Chris Hanley, I want this.’ And he made a great catch. My line gave me all the time in the world, so really it was the perfect storm.”
And that set the stage for Berluti’s two-point dash.
“The snap before, we went up there with no intention of snapping the ball, but we wanted to see what kind of look they were going to give us,” he added.
Then, Berluti found some open running space and, at long last, victory.
Missed chances: The Panthers have more than a few chances to salt away the victory at various stages of regulation and beyond.
After a potentially deflating last-minute score by the Wolverines, Holliston zoomed downfield on the final possession of regulation. Aided by a 50-yard connection from Jeye to Athy, the Panthers found themselves in field goal range with seconds remaining. However, Jeye’s 34-yard field goal attempt fell shy of the crossbar and the teams soldiered on to overtime.
The kicking game again cost Holliston in the first overtime period. After Jeye’s 4-yard scamper tied the score, 35-all, a botched point-after try kept the game alive.
After another Elkinson touchdown reception in double overtime, the Panthers’ 2-point conversion attempt (their only failed conversion of the game) fell short, setting the scene for Westwood’s final act.
“Our kids battled tonight,” Holliston head coach Todd Kiley said. “We’re a young team, we have four seniors. We played one of the most talented teams in the state, a senior-laden team, and we were down 15-0 – most teams would’ve folded.”