Recap: Abington 13, Cardinal Spellman 0

BROCKTON, Mass. – Last November, Cardinal Spellman’s postseason came to a close at the hands of regional rival Abington. The Green Wave stopped the Cardinals with two dramatic goal-line stands in the second half of their Division 5 playoff game, and salted away a 13-8 victory with an 8-minute, clock-killing drive.

So Friday night’s season opener created an uncomfortable sense of Déjà vu for the home team.

Toward the end of a sloppy first half replete with fumbles, three-and-outs, and dropped passes, Cardinal Spellman managed to drive deep into Abington territory with a versatile rushing attack out of the Wildcat formation. All eyes were on senior running back Matt Anastasi (12 carries for 47 yards in the first half), leaving quarterback Cameron Sass free to sprint towards the edge on a well-executed bootleg, but Abington’s James Landers met him at the pylon with a crunching hit to force a fourth-and-goal. Senior captain Luca Cerasani stopped Anastasi in the backfield on the next play, galvanizing the Green Wave as they headed into the locker room.

Sporting dyed green hair to begin his 41st year as Abington’s head coach, Jim Kelliher talked about the importance of that sequence.

“It was big, without a doubt,” Kelliher said after the game. “It’s tough to be in that situation, where they only have a couple yards to make, but we always talk about being resilient, trusting your teammates, and that time, it worked.”

The Green Wave seemed to build on the momentum of that pivotal stop, as they opened the second half with a 13-play, 63-yard drive that chewed up seven minutes of clock before Sam Malafronte rumbled into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the Spellman 1-yard line.

Junior running back Shawn Donovan rushed for 31 yards on five carries off right tackle, as Abington attacked the left side of Spellman’s defense on nearly every play during that drive.

“We wanted to get guys like Donovan and [RB] Donnell Leon around the corner,” Kelliher explained. “I think [after the half], we shored up a couple of things that gave us a bit of an edge, and it definitely opened up some other plays for us.”

Malafronte, who injured his ACL on the opening kickoff last season, was huge on both sides of the ball. He followed up his rushing touchdown with a shoestring tackle of Anastasi that stalled Spellman’s ensuing drive. After the Cardinals punted, the Green Wave took advantage of a tired Spellman defense by completing another 63-yard drive that was fittingly capped by Donovan’s 3-yard touchdown on a toss to the right.

Old Adversaries: With nearly 80 years of coaching experience between them, Kelliher and Cardinal Spellman head coach Ron St. George have a certain mutual respect.

“I’ve known Ronny for a long time,” said Kelliher. “We’ve been going against each other for a long time, and his team’s are always really physical and tough to play against.”

St. George coached for East Bridgewater and BC High before taking over at Spellman five years ago, and joined Kelliher as a Massachusetts High School Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2010.

Throughout his 35 years of coaching, St. George said he’s never had a season ravaged by as many injuries as this one. “This is an unusual year for us. We came in with four or five starters out, and then we lost another one [to transfer]. We’ll get kids back, and we’ll be better, but right now, we’re young, and I think we gave [Abington] all they could handle.”

The Cardinals had 14 players that didn’t dress for their season opener, and lost another key lineman when senior Ramyrage Alexis exited the game with a knee injury in the third quarter.

Still, Spellman’s defense performed very well with junior linebacker Ralph Grillone anchoring the middle of the field, and offensive stars such as Anastasi and Sass contributing on both sides of the ball.

Leader Returns Strong: Abington captain Sam Malafronte suffered a non-contact injury on the first play of the 2013 season, and missed the rest of the year after undergoing ACL surgery. Kelliher said he joked with the senior linebacker about how they would celebrate his second play of the game, because it meant that he surpassed last season’s total.

Along with fellow linebacker Luca Cerasani, and defensive back Josh Riordan, Malafronte was a crucial part of an Abington defense that shut out the opposition in their season opener for the first time since 2009.

“He is without a doubt one of the best leaders that we’ve ever had,” Kelliher effused. “You just don’t know how much Sam Malafronte does for this team. He’s constantly working, and you can tell he really wants to play this year.”

Abington 13, Cardinal Spellman 0

ABT 0 0 7 6 --- 13

CDS 0 0 0 0 --- 0

Third Quarter

A – Sam Malafronte 1 run (PAT good) 3:04

Fourth Quarter

A – Shawn Donovan 3 run (PAT failed) 5:45