ARLINGTON, Mass. –- When Seth Coiley went down with an ankle injury early in the first quarter, there wasn’t even the slightest bit of panic on the Arlington sideline.
Make no mistake, Coiley is a senior captain, a feared competitor who has been the starting quarterback for the Spy Ponders since he was a freshman. However, junior Frank Roche stepped in and filled the void beautifully, totaling 172 yards rushing and four touchdowns -- including a 94-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter to all but seal the win.
The 40-6 win over Woburn (5-1) was much more than just staying undefeated for Arlington (6-0), it insures a Middlesex Liberty title for the Spy Ponders and will give them the opportunity to play in the state playoffs for the first time since 1995.
“I was planning on playing running back [tonight], I’ve been a quarterback all my life so I knew I could step in and it would be seamless. It was a total team effort. I step in from time to time if Seth is struggling or hurting and just do my job. No panic,” Roche said.
Arlington coach John Dubzinski echoed Roche’s comments, mentioning that the confidence that Roche exudes is often contagious to other players on the team.
“The kids have a tremendous amount of respect for Frank Roche -- what he can do at quarterback, what he can do at tailback...When Seth went down we didn’t really miss a beat," Dubzinski proudly pointed out. "The kids had full confidence in Frank."
Roche made his presence felt quickly in his first full drive of the game at quarterback. After a personal foul call on a late hit on the kickoff, the Spy Ponders were set up with prime field position at the Woburn 26. Moments later Roche found Zach Thomas (3 catches, 72 yards, TD) in the end zone for a 22-yard score.
Arlington started at their own two yardline on the next drive, and Roche drove his team down the field and into the Woburn red zone, but settled for a 35-yard field goal by Thomas to extend the lead to 10-0 before halftime. The Spy Ponders stayed on the same track after the half, Roche ran in a 25-yard touchdown to put the lead at 17-0. After a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Lucas Hanley and a safety on a sack by Marco Saenz-Grant.
Moments later Roche did it once again, breaking through the Woburn defense for a 48-yard score.
“Running the option, he runs it to perfection -- he makes the right reads," Dubzinski said. "On special teams, there aren’t a lot of teams who can stop him, he’s a coach’s dream -- somebody who can play quarterback, somebody who can play tailback, somebody who can play split end returner, he can do it all. He’s our workhorse, he’s a major reason why we’re 6-0.”
Woburn showed a sign of life following the long run by Roche though, when junior Chris Jewett ran it home for a 53-yard score to get the Tanners on the board.
On the very next play, Roche brought back the kickoff 94 yards, increasing the lead to 40-6 and sealing the Middlesex Liberty title for the Spy Ponders.
“I thought I had been taken out of the game, but we don’t have a second return team,” Roche said with a laugh. “I just saw the seam and took off. I have to give all the credit to my blockers though.”
Culture change: Dubzinski raved about the improvements his team has made since his hire in 2011. Going from a three win team to a league champion, the coach blames the success solely on the work ethic of his players.
“When we first came here, we had one kid who could bench press 200 pounds. Now, we have about 30 who can do it," Dubzinski said. "A lot of kids they dedicated their whole offseason to 7-on-7’s, weight room combines -- it was just a total change in attitude. The work ethic has vastly improved since we got here. It’s 100 percent the kids effort, that’s why we’re winning games."
The coach said he knew he would have a talented squad when the Spy Ponders scrimmaged Mansfield and Lowell in the preseason and hung with them. It was one of the first times in his two years at Arlington that he saw his team as a developing local power. His do-it-all junior couldn’t agree more.
“It’s amazing, we struggled in the past this program, I think we’ve finally turned it around,” Roche said. “It’s awesome, this feeling. The feeling throughout the school was amazing, we hadn’t been 6-0 in forever it seems like—we just had full support from the school.”