BROCKTON, Mass. -- To say Abington’s bid for a spot in the Division 5 Super Bowl got off to a flying stop in Saturday’s state semifinal game against Bishop Fenwick would be an understatement.
On Abington’s second possession, quarterback Brian Dwyer fumbled in the end zone and the Crusaders’ Josh Niconchuk smothered the ball for a touchdown as the quarter expired for a 6-0 lead.
But the last thing the South champion Green Wave were about to do was panic.
Instead, Abington rallied behind an opportunistic defense plus the running of Shawn Donovan for a 29-14 victory.
As a result, Abington:
* Will face Northbridge on Dec. 6 in the Division 5 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. “All” Northbridge did Saturday was demolish Pittsfield, 58-35, in the other semifinal.
*Snapped Fenwick’s 27-game winning streak.
* Enabled its 13 seniors to improve their three-year record to 33-3.
* Avenged a 35-8 loss to Fenwick in last year’s state semifinal.
“We’ve done that a couple of times this year but my kids are resilient,” said Abington coach Jim Kelliher, referring to his team’s ability to bounce back from what could have been a devastating turnover. “We work on that all the time in practice. Over the years, we usually don’t make a lot of mistakes. We do sometimes like anybody would.
“We try to emphasize on first down get as many yards as you can. Every inch you can get make sure you get it on first down. Second downs and third downs are for first downs. We want situations where you have third-and-two rather than third-and-six.”
Donovan swamps Crusaders: Prior to this game, an inordinate amount of hype engulfed Fenwick’s star running back, senior Rufus Rushins who against Abington carried the ball 31 times for 166 yards and one touchdown. But his performance was more than offset by that of Donovan who recorded 192 yards and two touchdowns on a mere 12 carries.
“Shawn Donovan certainly for us is our catalyst,” said Kelliher. “He’s a guy who’s been with us since he was a freshman. He’s been doing the same thing. He comes back to the sideline and he’ll joke about all the wonderful things he does.
“He has a nice demeanor about himself. He understands that it’s a team concept. But he gives some individual accomplishments that sometimes are awe-inspiring. It’s like ‘How did you do that?’”
Donovan began “doing that” on Abington’s first series of the second quarter when he ran for the bulk of the yards during a 70-yard drive that culminated when he burst around right end from the 15 and Brendan Glavin ran for a two-point conversion.
While Kelliher might have been inclined to present a game ball to Donovan, he also might have been inclined to present numerous game balls to his defense which picked off three Dwyer passes and came up with two huge stops on fourth down plays by the Crusaders.
The first stop came on the game’s first possession when Fenwick went for a first down on fourth-and-three from its 48. Abington’s defense planted Cody Mullen one yard short of the first down.
Then, late in the second quarter, with Abington nursing that 8-6 lead, Fenwick faced a fourth-and-one on the Green Wave’s 32. This time, Abington’s defense stopped Rushins literally one inch shy of a first down.
Perfect timing: “My defense is just coming of age,” said Kelliher. “For the whole year we’ve been getting better and better each game. Today was a time that you certainly like to have it. It was the state semifinals and they were there.”
Abington’s interceptions also were as timely as the Green Wave’s ability to stuff Fenwick on the aforementioned fourth-down-plays.
After Glavin dived into the end zone from the 2 for a 15-6 lead, George Cellini protected that lead going into halftime by intercepting a pass on Fenwick’s 33 with 13 seconds left on the clock.
Then, after a scoreless third quarter, the Crusaders finally got their running game in gear and churned out an 18-play, 85-yard drive which Rushins capped by diving over from the 1.
But with 4:08 left in regulation, James Landers intercepted a pass which set up a 51-yard touchdown run by Donovan for a 21-14 lead.
And shortly after the ensuing kickoff Aidan Cawley intercepted a pass and sprinted 66 yards for a score that punched Abington’s ticket to the Super Bowl.
“Aidan Cawley, for the whole year on offense and defense, he’s a big-time player for us,” said Kelliher. “He got that (interception). But, offensively, he’s made some big catches. He gets down field and blocks for Donovan.
“But defensively you’ve got to watch out for him because he has that knack as a defensive back to be a pest.”
The irony of the day and site of the game wasn’t lost on Kelliher.
“I thought it was really nice that we’re here again, Bishop Fenwick and Abington on the same day as last year, November 22,” he said. “It was a nice fight like we should have in Brockton at Rocky Marciano Stadium.
“It was a slugfest right to the end.”
In the end, Abington delivered the knockout punch.
ABINGTON 29, BISHOP FENWICK 14
BF (10-1) 6-0-0-8 - 14
AB (10-1) 0-15-0-14 - 29
B – Josh Niconchuk recovered fumble in end zone (run failed)
A – Shawn Donovan 14 run (Brendan Glavin run)
A – Glavin 2 run (Dennis Cummins kick)
B – Rufus Rushins 1 run (Myles Connor pass from Matt Renzulli)
A – Donovan 51 run (kick failed)
A – Aidan Cawley 66 interception return (Donovan pass from Dwyer)