BYFIELD, Mass. -- The abrupt one-year turnaround at Governor's Academy has come full-circle.
Coming off a 4-4 campaign in 2010 and with a first-year head coach at the reigns, there was some unknown with the Governors in spite of their now-evident talent. But the Governors have merely taken the Independent School League by storm, winning the league outright this afternoon with a 41-14 rout of rival Belmont Hill, in Hillers coach Kevin Fleming's last ISL game after three decades at the helm.
Both the Governors (8-0) and Hillers (7-1) now await the results of tomorrow's NEPSAC Bowl seedings, with the former assured a spot in one of the five games to be played next weekend are various prep schools across New England. Belmont Hill figures to have a good shot as well.
"It's surreal," said junior quarterback Tate Jozokos, a UNC lacrosse commit who totaled 203 yards and four scores. "We have a new coach who's been great for us, and [being] ISL champs was goal we had for ourselves at the beginning of the season. We wanted to play nine games, and now we're going wherever we are."
Said Governors head coach Jim O'Leary said he knew there was some talent when he took over the program last offseason, but was taken aback by the determination of the kids.
"I said, 'Let's set some goals', and one of our captains stands up and goes, 'Coach, there's only one goal -- play nine games'," O'Leary recalled. "I looked them in the eye, and looked around, and they all believed in it. And from day one, that day forward, that's what they worked for.
"They come to practice ready to play, they come to games ready to play, it's just a great atmosphere. Just great kids."
Jozokos, the dual-threat signal-caller from Wolfeboro, N.H., controlled the tempo of this game from outset, and showed why the Governors are considered the league's premier offense. He opened up the afternoon's scoring seven minutes in with a one-yard sneak, set up by the running of junior running back Eli Morrissey (25 carries, 127 yards, 2 TD).
Then in the second quarter, he blew the game open, first connecting with Frank Barba on a 41-yard strike, his only touchdown pass of the game. The 6-foot-5 tight end presents a mismatch problem to many a defense, and head coach Jim O'Leary looked to exploit that, dialing up a deep post route down the left seam; Barba was left in single-coverage, and made the play easily for a 13-0 score (the kick failed).
"We usually do it with a 'blast pass', where we fake it to Eli and then I come around and just settle in, then deliver a pass to Frank," Jozokos said. "You know, 6-6, 6-5, it's an easy target to throw to. So I just threw it up there and hoped for the best, and he brought it down."
After stopping the Hillers on fourth down on the ensuing drive, Jozokos came back with some more nifty playmaking, running of scampers of 18 and 15 to set up a three-yard Morrissey plunge that made it 19-0 (the two-point rush failed).
Belmont Hill snuck in a nifty 45-yard touchdown pass from Connor Murphy to Alfredo Barros just before the half closed, but the Governors came out firing on defense to start the third quarter, led by linebacker Kirk Ryder (sack, interception) and defensive backs A.J. Enchill and Lucas Bombardier.
Morrissey punched in his second rushing touchdown to start the second half scoring, followed by touchdown runs of 17 and 14 by Jozokos to go up 41-7 in the fourth quarter.
Fleming's swan song: It wasn't the ideal way to go out for Belmont Hill head coach Kevin Fleming, who is retiring after three decades at the helm, but he's not going to hang his head -- "I told them I'm proud of them at 7-0, am I going to tell them I'm not proud of 7-1?" he chuckled to reporters.
Asked what he'll miss most about coaching in the ISL, Fleming smiled.
"It's been 40 years, I've been involved in coaching all my life, and athletics all my life," he said. "I think it's a great league to coach in, and I think this game was two schools, last season playing for the championship, so I give them my do."
Culture change: The difference between this year and last? Asked about what O'Leary brought to the table, Jozokos said, "He is just all about football."
"I come in on Sundays, on weekends, and he's watching film," Jozokos said. "Some of the assistant coaches are even like, he's watching film constantly. He's analyzing, and really putting us in the best spot to succeed. He's all into football, and we feed off his energy."
Throughout the fall, we've talked about the lacrosse-football overlap almost ad nauseum when it comes to describing Duxbury's defense. For the Governors, one of the ISL's premier lacrosse programs, there is similar overlap. But where Duxbury utilizes the spread for its lacrosse stars, the Governors may well represent the opposite end of the spectrum.
Getting Jozokos to stretch the edge of the field paid off time and again this afternoon, but the Governors didn't throw a plethora of exotic three-or-four receiver sets at the Hillers. The Governors prefer to utilize their athletes from a mix of shotgun and under-center looks; a number of times, in short yardage and red zone situations, they came out in a "Stack-I" set, with three running backs lining up in the I formation.
"He's bringing everything in, you know, smash-mouth football," Jozokos said of the jumbo package. "But we also spread it out, because we have the senior with speed, as you see. And Eli keeps running and running and running, so our running game he has in that stack opens up the defense when we go into the spread. Those kinds of things -- the Stack-I, I'd never seen before -- that helps us getting out in space."
GOVERNOR'S 41, BELMONT HILL 14
BH (7-1) 0 - 7 - 0 - 7 --- 14
GA (8-0) 7 - 12 - 14 - 7 --- 41
G - Tate Jozokos 1 run (Colin Smith kick) 5:44
G - Frank Barba 41 pass from Jozokos (kick failed) 10:53
G - Eli Morrissey 3 run (rush failed) 4:51
B - Alfredo Barros 45 pass from Connor Murphy (George McLaughlin kick) 1:58
G - Morrissey 2 run (Smith kick) 7:38
G - Jozokos 17 run (Smith kick) 3:18
G - Jozokos 14 run (Smith kick) 7:11
B - Eric Oberg 16 pass from Petros Davos (McLaughlin kick) 1:13