GROTON, Mass. -- Don't look now but Buckingham Browne & Nichols is starting to make a case for itself within the ISL.
Under a steady drizzle, the Knights overcame a six-point fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 14-13 defensive-battle triumph over Lawrence Academy this afternoon.
With just 7:43 remaining, the Knights began their decisive drive. Starting from its own 24-yard line, BB&N senior back Matt Bonazzoli got things going with a 35-yard jaunt. Later in the drive, junior quarterback Cole O'Connor, on a flea-flicker, found eighth-grade receiver Jay Symonds for a 33-yard completion, putting the ball on the Spartans’ 9-yard line.
O'Connor finished by throwing for 105 yards on 6 of 9 passing.
Moments following the gadget play, Bonazzoli ran into the end zone untouched for his second touchdown of the afternoon with 5:40 remaining. Jimmy Cochran's PAT put the Knights (4-0), who came in a bit short-handed due to injuries, ahead to stay.
"We never use injuries as an excuse but we have some key guys who have been down," said BB&N coach John Pappas, his team mustering 260 yards of offense, with 179 coming in the final half. "Our guys just battled today and made plays. We've been able to wear teams down and I cannot say enough about the effort of our guys today."
Averaging 31.6 points-per-game in its three previous outings, BB&N's offense struggle for much of the afternoon against a vaunted LA defense.
However, the Knights managed to show enough fortitude to pull this one out.
After the BB&N score, the Spartans (1-3) had two more opportunities to reclaim the lead. The first one resulted in a punt and the final chance ended with an incomplete pass at the Knights' 20 on fourth down.
"Our kids played very hard and it was a great game," Spartans coach Paul Zukauskas said. "Give credit to (BB&N). They are a really tough team and really aggressive. My hat's off to them. We've played some very good teams and our kids are getting better. They really care about football and we're going to continue to keep going after teams."
After the first 12 minutes, in which neither team could get on the scoreboard, LA fired the first salvo midway through the second quarter.
Quarterback Kyle Howes (9-of-18 for 129 yards) hooked up with Timothy Preston for a 45-yard pitch-and-catch to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead. Throughout the opening half, the Knights offense found the terrain rough going. When they weren't being tackled in the backfield for losses or committing dumb penalties, BB&N failed to sustain any kind of consistent rushing attack. But things started to change after the intermission.
BB&N took the second half kickoff and set out on a mission to seize ball control and eat up as much time as possible off the clock. The strategy worked to perfection as the Knights marched 65 yards on 14 plays, taking 9:30 off the clock, before Bonazzoli barreled in from a yard out to deadlock the game at 7-all with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
"This was a very big game for us and we knew we had to get it," said Bonazzoli, a Swampscott native who finished with 156 yards on 21 carries. "Lawrence is always a tough game for us but this is a great win. In the first half we didn't execute as well as we wanted to but in the second half we were able to execute much better. After the half we tried to line up in different formations and get their defense off-set so we could run the plays we normally run and we were able to do so."
The Spartans, who finished with 248 yards, had their issues moving the ball as well. However, following the Knights’ score, Howes was able to take his club down field, completing three passes in the process, before the senior sprinted into the end zone from 16 yards out just one minute into the final quarter to give the lead back to LA.
A bad snap on the ensuing PAT try resulted in the Spartans having to settle for a 13-6 advantage. The missed boot seemed to light a fire under the Knights, who realized they were just a touchdown and PAT away from jumping ahead.
After failing to execute on its possession following the LA score, the Knights didn't disappoint the next time they had the ball. A methodical 84-yard drive was capped off by Bonazzoli's game-winning score and the defense did their job the rest of the way.
"We just keep on pounding away at opponents," Pappas said. "We keep pounding that sledgehammer against the rock and eventually we know it will break. Coming in, we knew Lawrence Academy was a very good and well-coached team but I am so proud of our guys for continuing to pound away at them and eventually wear them down.
“I thought Bonazzoli was huge for us today. He has the heart of a lion and is just a great player. We're a team of no superstars. We're short and stout but we play with a lot of heart and that's what I love about our guys."