WESTWOOD, Mass. -– The double overtime loss in early October was still fresh on the mind of Holliston quarterback Matt Jeye leading up to this week’s rematch. After all, if there is one game to win all season, it is over archrival Westwood.
Luckily for the Panthers, they got another shot and they did not let it slip through their grasp. This time is was Holliston celebrating at midfield with hundreds of fans after a thrilling 35-20 victory in the Div. 4 South semifinals.
“I got texts from seniors who graduated last year, alumni all over the place, they are asking me to defeat these guys and I knew I had to do that,” said Jeye.
“Those who graduated 10 years ago up till this team right here came back to see this team get this result,” Holliston coach Todd Kiley said following the game.
It wasn’t easy and it looked like another overtime game was in the forecast. Holliston lead 28-20 with just over three minutes to play and faced a 3rd and 1 from deep inside their own territory when they dialed up something buried deep in the playbook. Lining up in their "War" package, junior Zach Elkinson took an end-around, faked a reverse to Nick Athy and went untouched for 81 yards to seemingly put the game away for the Panthers.
“We put that in because of how they defended the reverse last time. We decided to go to that play because we needed one yard, and actually Zach scored too quickly,” Kiley joked after the game.
But no lead seems to be safe in this rivalry matchup. On the ensuring kickoff, Dan Roache returned the kickoff 70 yards to the Holliston 10 yard line. A big holding penalty and a couple of incompletions followed and the Wolverines turned the ball over on downs, ending the threat as Holliston went into victory formation.
“Until those numbers say zero on the clock, I don’t feel safe,” said Kiley.
Holliston opened the game with a chip on their shoulder. Their defense forced a Wolverine punt on the opening drive, and on their second possession, Westwood quarterback Bo Berluti (20 carries, 186 yards) was hit from behind and the ball popped into Matt McIssac’s hand which was returned 66 yards for the game’s first score.
After the two teams traded 1-yard touchdowns runs in the final five minutes of the half, Holliston threatened to run away with the game. The Panthers opened up the second half with a 6-play, 65-yard drive ending with a 14-yard hookup between Jeye and Elkinson to give the visitors a 21-6 lead and silencing the den.
Westwood needed to figure out the Panthers defense and quick. They looked to their senior quarterback and he answered. Berluti ran the ball six times for 38 yards and then found a wide-open Connor DiVincenzo in the end zone for a 32-yard score, cutting the deficit to 21-12.
The Westwood defense forced a three-and-out and four plays later, with Berluti only needing one-yard on third down, came up with 54 on a keeper up the middle to bring Westwood within one, capturing the momentum for the Wolverines.
With the script all too-familiar for Matt Jeye and the Panthers, they made it a point to win the fourth quarter. And they wasted no time. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jeye found his favorite target, Paul Beling for 72 yards and was forced out of bounds by Corey Hanley.
For a moment it looked as if Hanley saved his team seven points, but on 4th and goal from the 13, Beling made an incredibly athletic play, leaping up from the back of the endzone with the awareness to get his feet inbound for the 28-20 lead.
“That was a huge turning point, said Kiley. “It really speaks volumes about what Matt Jaye is to this football team. He hung in there he got pressed out of the pocket but kept his composure and was able to find Paul in the back of the end zone. Those two have made plays all year long.”
Gutsy performances from Elkinson: The 5-foot-8 junior came down with everything thrown his way, including the flu. But, Elkinson was still determined to play in his team’s biggest game of the season. He showed up to school on Friday for the minimum amount of time needed and went home to get some sleep.
Elkinson didn’t even show up to the game until 15 minutes prior to kickoff. “He slept until he absolutely needed to be here because he didn’t want to let him teammates down,” Kiley said of his star wideout.
And without Elkinson, the Panthers may not have pulled off the upset. He had the clinching 81-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes and added four catches for 71 yards and a score on the receiving end.
“I texted him about 80 times today asking if he would be okay,” Jeye said. “I told him if he played id buy him some soup, some cake whatever he wants.“
Interesting end to first half: Westwood was driving in the final five minutes of the first half, trailing 7-0. The Wolverines ran the ball effectively during the drive when they decided to get cute with the ball. With the ball at the Panther 15 yard line and 15 minutes to play, Westwood came out with a half-back pass that was picked off by Colman Regan (his first of two on the night) at the two-yard line.
With 4:25 remaining and in the shadow of their own goalpost, Holliston came out throwing. The first was incomplete. Again, the Panthers threw the ball and Jeye was picked off at his own five-yard line. On the next play Roache, busted through the line for the first Westwood score of the night.
Two interesting play calls in a vulnerable position on the field. Two interceptions.
When Holliston got the ball back with 4:10 to play Jeye went into his two minute offense. A play to Elkinson for 11 yards and a big pass to Beling for 38 set up the Panthers inside the 10. Jeye called his own number on third and fourth down to get a big score before the end of the half and take the win out of the Wolverines’ sails.
A look ahead to Thanksgiving: Don’t worry, if you missed either of the first two thrillers between these two teams, you’ll get another chance.
For the first time in state football history, the same matchup will occur three times in the same year. These two teams met in divisional play, were matched up in the Division 4 playoffs and will meet again for their annual Thanksgiving rivalry matchup.
Over the past year, this rivalry has been one of the best in the state. In last season’s turkey-day game, with the winner taking the Tri-Valley large football crown and moving onto the playoffs, Westwood crushed Holliston.
In their first meeting this year, Westwood won again in double overtime and then Friday night, Holliston got revenge from last year with a huge playoff win.
“Thanksgiving will always be Thanksgiving and now it will be a rubber match,” Kiley said.
At this point, your guess is as good as mine as to who will take it this year. You have better luck at flipping a coin.
HOLLISTON 35, WESTWOOD 20
HOL -- 7 7714--35
WES -- 0 6140--20
H - Matt McIssac 66 interception return (Matt Jeye kick), 6:57
W - Dan Roache 1 run (rush fail), 4:20
H - Jeye 1 run (Jeye kick), 1:03
H - Zach Elkinson 14 pass from Jeye (Jeye kick), 8:27
W - Connor DiVincenzo 32 pass from Bo Berluti (rush failed), 4:08
W - Berluti 54 run (Corey Hanley pass from Bertuli), :10
H - Paul Beling 13 pass from Jeye (Jeye kick), 10:07
H - Elkinson 81 run (Jeye kick), 3:03