BB&N defense shines in ISL opener

BELMONT, Mass. -- Buckingham Browne & Nichols forced five turnovers in its ISL opener against Belmont Hill on Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that one of the takeaways finally turned into points.

Sophomore defensive end Brendan O’Neil made a leaping interception along the left hash marks with 9:48 to go in a 3-0 game and ran it back 45 yards to pay dirt, sparking a 20-point outburst by the Knights in the final minutes of a 23-7 victory at Belmont Hill.

"What we needed was some excitement, some energy, and that play really was a boost of energy to get the team going," said the 6-foot-5 O'Neil. "It was what we needed so we could get our offense going. Everyone got pumped up from there."

The offense certainly needed something, as it had struggled to gain just over 160 yards on its first seven possessions of the game, scoring its only points on a 23-yard field goal by Ralph Malin in the first quarter.

After the pick and a three-and-out by the Hillies, however, BB&N moved the ball 112 yards on 10 plays over a pair of late scoring drives to extend the lead.

"I don’t think we were frustrated" before the first scoring drive, said BB&N running back Chris Coady. "We knew we were a better team than them. Going into the locker room (at halftime) we all knew we could do it. It was just a matter of when."

Bertino (10-of-18 passing for 159 yards, interception) started the scoring spree by going 3-of-4 on the first drive after the pick. He hit Nick DiChiara for 40 yards on third-and-17 from his own 35 to keep the possession alive, and then found Coady four plays later from 11 yards out to push the lead to 17-0.

Belmont Hill (0-1) got on the scoreboard on a 12-yard touchdown reception for Zach Williams (13 rushes for 161 yards; six receptions for 50 yards) with 1:25 remaining.

But O'Neil, who also had a third-quarter fumble recovery, fell on the ensuing onside kick, and Coady (20 rushes for 118 yards; fumble recovery) broke a 57-yard run up the middle three plays later to seal the win.

"Belmont Hill is a heck of a football team, let's not forget that," said BB&N coach John Papas. "They're tough inside. I have to give it to our guys. We just had great resolve all day."

The first four turnovers may not have led to any points for BB&N, but they did keep the Hillies off the scoreboard when they appeared to be poised to punch it in. Three consecutive turnovers to end the first-half came inside of BB&N territory, with the last two (a fumbled hand-off and an end zone interception to end the second quarter) occurring inside the 10.

"Those were huge turnovers," said O'Neil. "They could have taken the lead or tied it up (going into the half). Our defense played tough and we came through with the big plays when it counted."

Belmont Hill's defense continued to look strong when it opened the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out. However, the Hillies responded by committing their fourth consecutive turnover at midfield, when quarterback Conor Murphy fumbled after taking a hard hit on a sack, and O’Neil recovered the loose ball.

"Our offense just played very immature, made too many mistakes," said Belmont Hill coach Kevin Fleming. "Our defense played very well, and we just didn’t put away our chances, and we lost the game because of it. Just poor execution on offense."

BB&N 23, Belmont Hill 7

BBN (1-0) 3 0 0 20 --- 23

BH (0-1) 0 0 0 7 --- 7

BN – Ralph Malin 23 field goal

BN – Brendan O’Neil 45 interception return (Malin kick)

BN – Chris Coady 11 pass from Eric Bertino (Malin kick)

BH – Zach Williams 12 pass from Conor Murphy (Theodore Mitropoulos kick)

BN – Coady 57 run (kick failed)