READING, Mass. -- They say the nail that sticks up gets hammered down? Well, whatever sky-high feelings of glimmer and glee was abound in the countenance of the Cardinal Spellman players, following their 28-16 win over Hamilton-Wenham that punched their ticket to Saturday's Division 3A Super Bowl at Gillette, was shot back to Earth when it came time for head coach Ron St. George to speak.
"We played terrible and we still won," St. George grunted to his players, down on one knee. And the underlying message -- stay humble, stay hungry -- wasn't lost. Senior running back Blaise Branch finished with 176 yards and two scores, to make it 36 rushing touchdowns on the season, but was held to just 40 yards in the second half. So with that in mind, Branch deferred to his teammates.
"I don't know what happened, I'll have to watch the film, but they shut me down," Branch said when asked what adjustments he might have seen from the Generals' defense in the second half. "But luckily, we have some guys who can come up big for us."
Enter Jared Lordi. The senior fullback is used to creating holes for Branch out of the backfield. But with Branch struggling, Lordi served as the perfect antidote, taking jet sweep and veer handoffs, as well as some long strikes out of the backfield, to put the game out of reach.
With six minutes to go, the Cardinals (12-0) clinging to a 14-9 lead and facing fourth and 13 from 31 yard line of H-W (8-3), the Cardinals went for broke. Zac Cooney tossed a fade down the left sideline to Lordi, who came down with it for a 20-yard completion. Two plays later, Cooney ran it in from nine yards out for a 21-9 lead.
Dylan Keith (208 yards passing) fired back quickly with two long strikes, first a 28-yard bullet to James Love, then a 23-yard score to Trevor Lyons running a slant over the middle from the left slot. But Lordi was right back at it, moving the chains with runs of 14 and 11 before punching the ensuing seven-play scoring drive with another fade down the left sideline from Cooney, this one for 23 yards to the near pylon. That made it 28-16 and, with 1:08 left in the game, essentially put things away.
"I didn't like our kids' biorhythms in the locker room," St. George said. "They seemed content, I mean I could sense it. I've just been doing this for too long."
Taking some of the blame unto himself, he continued, "They come out and do nothing, and all of a sudden they hit that bomb, and that one's my fault," referring to the first H-W score, a 68-yard strike from Keith to Love in single-coverage -- shedding his man in single-coverage and with nobody over the top, Love raced easily to paydirt. "I went after them when we were in man, and hey, if you get beat, you get beat, there's nobody behind you."
But Lordi? Only the highest praise.
"He was huge down the stretch, kid's been unheralded all year," St. George said.
CARDINAL SPELLMAN 28, HAMILTON-WENHAM 16
CS 7 7 0 14 --- 28
HW 0 0 9 7 --- 16
C - Blaise Branch 1 run (Jordan Williams kick) 2:52
C - Branch 7 run (Williams kick) 7:35
H - James Love 68 pass from Dylan Keith (kick failed) 8:57
H - James Brao 29 field goal 2:55
C - Zac Cooney 8 run (Williams kick) 4:01
H - Trevor Lyons 23 pass from Keith (Brao kick)
C - Jared Lordi 22 pass from Cooney (Williams kick) 1:08