NATICK, Mass. – This was a Natick offense the state wasn’t used to seeing – more precisely, it’s because the Redhawks weren’t putting points up on the board with ease.
Late in the first half of Natick’s Division 2 South first-round playoff game against King Philip Friday, the Redhawks trailed, 12-6, their offense sputtering.
Then, they got back to what works.
On the final play of the second quarter, Troy Flutie hit Alex Hilger on a 14-yard touchdown pass on an improvised route after the pass play broke down. Natick parlayed the momentum into the second half, distancing itself from the Warriors to advance with a 39-26 victory.
“In the first half, they were giving us issues, bringing pressure,” Flutie said. “I couldn’t really run anyway, I couldn’t connect. Then, we starting connecting at the end and making big plays.”
Flutie accounted for all of Natick’s six scores, throwing for five touchdowns while running for another. Although he finished with 336 passing yards while completing 20 of 32 attempts, Flutie and the Redhawks (8-0) offense struggled to find their rhythm in the first half.
Hilger had been held without a catch until the final play of the half. However, the rangy 6-foot-3 wideout got rolling in the second half, finishing with six catches for 156 yards and three scores.
“I don’t know without it if we could’ve kept doing what we’re doing,” Flutie said of Hilger’s touchdown at the end of the half. “It was a great play by Alex, a great catch, a great job by our linemen giving me time in the pocket.”
The Flutie to Hilger connection kept rolling in the second half. With KP (5-3) controlling the opening possession of the third quarter, Natick’s defense came up with its biggest play of the game, forcing a fumble which was recovered by defensive end Trenton Wright at the Redhawks’ 41-yard line. Three plays later, Hilger found pay dirt again with an 18-yard touchdown reception for a 19-12 lead.
Following an 11-yard rushing score from KP’s Joe Johnston (27 carries, 149 yards), Flutie needed just one scrimmage play to hit a streaking Hilger along the right-hand sideline on a 69-yard connection. After a failed point-after try, the Redhawks led 25-19 with 2:08 remaining in the third.
Following a Warriors’ three-and-out, Natick assembled perhaps its best comprehensive drive of the game, chewing up 82 yards on a 12-play march that also burned 4:18 off the clock. Advantaged by a pass interference call that set up the Redhawks with a first-and-goal, Flutie juked his way around the edge with a 3-yard touchdown run and a 32-19 lead.
KP showed resiliency, responding with a quick strike of its own, with J.J. Dillon hitting Kyle Loewen on an 18-yard connection, again making it a one-possession game (32-26) with 4:55 to play.
Natick rounded out scoring inside of the two-minute warning on Flutie’s fifth touchdown pass, a 20-yard hitch to Andrew Boynton.
Bringin’ the heat: KP brought just about everything but the kitchen sink defensively at Natick.
Playing in a plethora of fronts, the Warriors were able to disguise coverages. The Warriors brought enough pressure (and from a multitude of angles) to accelerate Flutie’s decision-making process, while taking away his downfield options through the first half.
“It’s a bind because, if you bring too much pressure, he can run around and make plays,” Warriors head coach Brian Lee said of scheming for Flutie and Co. “And then, if you don’t bring pressure and you give him time, you have to be very conservative, he’ll take that inside move and find more time, so your guys are forced to cover longer."
The Warriors spent as much time sending “Dog” blitzes at Flutie as they did dropping seven into coverage. Weaving together man and combination coverages looks, KP gave Natick’s offense plenty to think about at half.
“I give all the credit to their game plan and King Philip’s coaching staff,” Hilger said. “They came in here with a great game plan and they executed perfectly in the first half.”
Hilger added, commenting on the variety of coverages he faced, “In high school, we don’t see that too often.”
Other side of the coin: While the high-flying Redhawks offense often garners the headlines, Natick’s defense also acquitted itself in the second half Friday.
With the Warriors averaging more than four yards per carry in the first half, the Redhawks bore down in the final two quarters. Sure-handed inside linebacker Gus Black racked up the tackles behind a steady defensive line.
“It was nice having Mike Abbruzzese back on defense, he’s really our heart and soul,” Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli said. “Gus [Black] played well and T.J. Collins and Brandon Boudreau. Our guys on the outside, too, Trenton Wright and Ray Morreale and Jared Tishler, played well, too, so that was nice.”