BROCKTON, Mass. –- Blowout, nail-biter, runaway, down to the wire, rout.
Somehow, all of those accurately described the division 6 Eastern Mass finals between the Anchormen and the Skippers. But after it was all said and done, Cohasset walked off the field with a ticket to their first superbowl in the programs history.
The Skippers lead 27-6 early in the third quarter, just to see St. Clement threatening to tie by the end of the quarter. And less than two minutes after that, Cohasset had a comfortable lead again.
“We didn’t take our foot off the pedal, they just started making plays,” Cohasset coach Peter Afanasiw said following the game. “They’ve got some kids that were due to make some plays.”
Trailing 27-20 the Anchorman had the ball at the Cohasset 11-yard line facing a fourth and five. Out of the timeout, quarterback Michael Sullivan looked for his favorite target Khaneil Bruce on a slant route, but linebacker Matt Froio dropped into coverage and the ball came right to him. He then returned it 77 yards to the St. Clement 13-yard line.
“We went from a cover two to a cover three and we allowed Matt to drop and help out with pass coverage,” said Afanasiw. “I could defiantly run a few more sprints and get my wind going,” Froio joked after the game. “But my teammates blocked downfield well. I was running downfield and all I saw was blue shirts. They carried me all the way down to the 15-yard line.”
Fullback Ryan Gillis punched the ball into the end zone on the following play to give Cohasset a 34-20 lead.
Two plays later the game was iced when Sullivan was picked again, this time by Nick Hall who broke off his coverage to jump a post route.
The Skippers rode the back of junior running back Cole Kissick who totaled 250 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns. The Anchormen simply had no answer for him. Kissick got to the outside all game long and his shifty running style made would-be tacklers miss. His fullback Gillis added another 80 yards on 14 carries and a pair of scores.
Don’t count out the Anchormen: Cohasset seemed to bury St. Clement when Kissick scored his third touchdown of the game early in the third quarter, giving Cohasset a 27-6 lead. With the Anchormen searching for answers on both offense and defense, the deficit appeared to be too much to overcome.
But St. Clement kept their composure and responded with a 7-play, 54-yard drive capped off with a Deron Hines three-yard score to cut the deficit to 27-12. They built off that score and forced a three-and-out on the subsequent drive.
St. Clement fumbled the ball away on the first play but again, the defense rose to the occasion and forced a turnover on downs in four plays to get the ball back.
“We changed our defense, we were back to our 4-3 defense which is our base and they couldn’t adjust to it,” said St. Clement coach Colin Walsh. “It caused some great defensive stops to keep us in the game.”
That is when the quick-strike offense that St. Clement has featured all year showed up. In just three plays, the Anchormen went 72 yards. Sullivan hooked up with Junior Oyaronbi for 31 yards and then a bubble screen to the right side to Bruce went 37 yards for a score. Hines converted the two-point conversion with a run up the middle and St. Clement was one possession away from tying the game at 27-20.
Roller-coaster drive: For the third consecutive drive, the Anchormen defense stepped up the challenge of containing Kissick and succeeded. St. Clement got the ball back at their own 26 with nine minutes to play and their offense clicking.
On the second play of the drive, Sullivan found Oyaronbi on a deep post for 34 yards down to the Skipper 26-yard line.
After a short run and two incompletions, the Anchormen faced a long fourth down and Sullivan was sacked, but a defensive holding call in the secondary gave St. Clement a new set of downs.
On third and five, Sullivan found Brandon Williams alone in the endzone, but his own teammate ran into him and the ball fell incomplete in the endzone, setting up fourth down.
After two timeouts, Sullivan tried finding Bruce, but Froio was there for the interception and the long return.
“On fourth down we saw the opening over the middle, they weren’t playing a safety but their linebacker dropped under the slant and made a great pick,” said Walsh. “He completely read the quarterbacks eyes. We were throwing to our number one receiver but unfortunately it didn’t pan out.”
“I was told to stay in the middle and watch the slant,” said Froio. “They tried it earlier and it worked real well. [Bruce] is fast and has good hands. We knew they were going to target him and I sat there and waited for it to come to me and thankfully it did.”
Kissick runs wild: In the first half alone, Kissick ran for 199 yards and was the reason that Cohasset held a big halftime lead. Kissick found the endzone twice in the first half and again early in the third quarter.
His offensive line created holes for him all night and his fullback Gillis paved the way for him. And when he wanted to bounce it outside, there was no one from St. Clement who stopped him.
“We saw the holes that were open and took advantage of them and we also mixed it up,” Kissick said. “We didn’t just go with the basic plays every time we went with sweeps, blasts, all that.”
The contrasting styles between Kissick and Gillis complemented each back very well. When both backs were in the backfield, it kept the Anchormen defense guessing.
“In all honestly, tonight though it was their fullback,” said Walsh. “He was chewing up yards and having our linebackers make false reads. [Kissick’s] a great runner don’t get me wrong, but I think their fullback had a great game and a lot of lead blocks.”
St. Clement made some great adjustments in the second half to limit the running game, giving their offense a chance to catch up.
Turnovers, mistakes, did St. Clement in: Even though they trailed 27-6 in the second half, the score was no indication of how the game was being played.
The Anchorman actually caused the first turnover of the game, an interception from Oyaronbi at midfield on the opening drive. But from there, St. Clement went four-and-out and Cohasset went on to take a 7-0 lead on the subsequent drive.
The Skippers then recovered a squib kick that bounced around long enough for the kicking unit to run downfield and recover. Ten plays later Cohasset doubled their lead.
Even when a bounce did go the way of the Anchormen, such as when Kissick fumbled the ball away at the St. Clement 3-yard line, they squandered the opportunity. Brett Dooley sacked Sullivan in the end zone on the next play for a safety.
After another Cohasset touchdown, St. Clement was driving late in the first half but was intercepted to put an end to the threat.
"If we had come out and started the game like we finished, I think it would have been a different game,” said Walsh.
Adventurous kicking game: The kicking game at the high-school level can sometimes be adventurous. But that is usually with the field-goal or PAT unit, not the kickoffs.
With a strong wind all game in Brockton, both teams opted for the squib kick instead of trying to kick the ball team. Neither coach any idea how drastically that decision changed the outcome of the game.
Cohasset’s first squib kick was recovered by the Skippers. To open the second half, the Skipper kickoff bounced around long enough to be recovered again. And an onside kick when Cohasset was up 27-6 was nearly recovered again.
The same was said for St. Clement. Their kicks resulted in pileups on the ball with strongest player on the bottom coming up with possession.
“There were a lot of the plays that could have gone either way, said Afanasiw. Fifty-fifty balls and luckily we were the beneficiaries of two or three of them.”
Super Saturday: In two weeks, the Skippers will play for their first superbowl in their history. They will play Littleton at Gillette Stadium on December 7th for the Division 6 Superbowl.
In between, they have Hull for their annual Thanksgiving day rivalry.
The top-seeded team in the South Sectional knew they had something special and executed down the stretch to make it happen.
“It hasn’t even sunk in yet,” Afanasiw said. “I wish I could answer that question. Never been there, but its going to be a fun experience.
“It’s huge, its unbelievable,” said Kissick. “We’re going to Gillette and we’re going there to win. We have to finish exactly what we started. We’re on a mission.”
Cohasset 40, St. Clement 20
C - Chris Haggerty 1 run (Henry Butenschoen kick), 5:41
C - Cole Kissick 5 run (kick fail), 2:16
S - Khaneil Bruce 6 pass from Michael Sullivan (pass fail), 9:42
C - Safety, 7:11
C - Kissick 1 run (pass fail), 4:48
C - Kissick 8 run (Butenschoen kick), 9:05
S - Deron Hines 3 run (rush fail), 6:07
S - Bruce 37 pass from Sullivan (Hines run), 1:35
C - Ryan Gillis 13 run (Butenschoen kick), 5:47
C - Gillis 7 run (Butenschoen kick), 4:24