ABINGTON, Mass. – Any rumors of demise on the gridiron at Abington High this fall have been greatly exaggerated.
No, the Green Wave weren’t exactly written off after seeing two of their star players go down with season-ending injuries in their Week 1 loss to Duxbury –- they hung in until the final drive that night, of course -– but there were certainly questions abound as to how they’d progress moving forward.
Six weeks later, the Green Wave have won five straight and secured a share of the South Shore League title, after spoiling border rival Rockland’s Homecoming with a 23-7 win at Rockland Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I credit my coaching staff and I credit my kids,” Abington coach Jim Kelliher said. “We don’t have one of the very best backs in Eastern Massachusetts, with [Matt] Kilmain, and we lost our second-best guy on the first play of the season. We gotta roll up our sleeves, and just dig in, and we’ve got to work and make sure we come ready to play together on a Friday or Saturday.
“That’s what our coaching staff has really done a good job of. We’ve lost two big guys, and they were two very good gosh darn players.”
The Green Wave (5-1) used nearly a half-dozen ball-carriers to eke out yardage, as well as some deep throws from quarterback Brian Dwyer (7-of-9, 101 yards; 5 carries, 22 yards) to get out to an early lead. They took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter when Al Freeman (21 caries, 77 yards, 2 TD) pulled around the left on a sweep and scampered in from 15 yards out. That score completed a quick four-play, 65-yard drive that featured some shifty open-field maneuvering from sophomore Shawn Donovan (12 carries, 115 yards).
Rockland responded immediately, with Justin Nguyen returning the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to the house, but the Green Wave came right back to make it a two-possession game once again. Following an onside kick recovery at midfield, Abington marched 53 yards in nine plays, capping it with Freeman's second touchdown, a two-yard plunge through the right side.
But the story of this game was the turnovers. Abington finished with a plus-four differential on the afternoon, twice recovering fumbles in its own red zone to thwart scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs (4-2).
The second recovery, snatched at the one-foot line by Josh Riordan, may have been the backbreaker. Off the turnover, the Green Wave ground out a 12-play, 85-yard drive that ate more than eight minutes off the clock. Donovan completed the drive with a 32-yard field goal, and by the time the Bulldogs had the ball again, they were facing a three-possession deficit with 3:56 to go.
Aidan Cawley sealed it in the end for Abington, thwarting Rockland's final two drives with interceptions deep downfield.
"They certainly are gonna feel good about that," Kelliher said. "I tell the kids defensively, if you can live for another defensive play, then something can happen. Even though they were driving -- they drove on us a couple of times -- I always say if you make them work for every single inch, something may happen. Maybe we're going to get that linebacker to tip the ball, or get an interception, maybe we're going to make a hit that causes a fumble, but stay with it, keep coming after them. They did, and we got those."
ABINGTON 23, ROCKLAND 7
AB 7 13 0 3 --- 23
RO 0 7 0 0 --- 7
A – Steve Manning 7 run (Shawn Donovan kick) 1:51
A – Al Freeman 15 run (Donovan kick) 8:19
R – Justin Nguyen 74 kickoff return (Joe Reardon kick) 8:06
A – Freeman 2 run (kick failed) 3:23
A – Donovan 32 field goal 3:58