FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In each of the past two seasons, Northbridge has discovered Gillette Stadium to be its own personal house of horrors. Two years and two blowout losses in the Division 5 state championship have not resonated well with these Rams.
On Saturday, Northbridge was back for another try. With the majority of this team having been part of those previous two championship defeats -- versus Bishop Fenwick and Abington -- now as seniors, this was their final serenade to rewrite a different epilogue.
Thanks to a closing minute interception by Koby Schofer, Northbridge was able to hold on for a thrilling 36-34 victory over East Bridgewater.
"It feels awesome," said Schofer. "After two years of losing here we are now finally able to come out on top. I knew if they were going to take a shot downfield I knew they would throw it to (Peterson) so I just tried to give myself the room I needed to make a play."
Despite the defense allowing the Vikings offense (419 yards) to move the ball literally at will for most of the game, the Rams came up with the major stop when they needed it most.
With 1:12 remaining, East Bridgewater had the ball on its own 38. After a 12-yard completion by senior quarterback Ryan Graham, the Vikings moved to the 50. Opting to air one out, Graham heaved a throw down the left sideline intended for Jake Peterson. But the ball went 10 yards beyond where the receiver was, allowing Schofer to make a clean pick on his own 3 yard line.
Northbridge (12-1) proceeded to run out the final seconds, securing its 11th Super Bowl and/or state title in 19 appearances.
"We came in here hoping for a good showing after our previous two games in this building," said Rams head coach Ken LaChapelle, who added to his state record victory mark by picking up career win number 340. "You have to remember that this core group were sophomores and juniors in our last to appearances in this game here. Today, many played as seniors and it was a great game. East Bridgewater was outstanding and we had a tough time stopping them. We got two turnovers in the end and sometimes you need breaks like that. We deserved this and I'm very happy for my kids."
On East Bridgewater's previous possession, it appeared as though the Vikings (11-2) were poised to get the go-ahead score. Positioned on the Northbridge 28, Graham was forced outside the pocket. Running for his life, Alex Dowd came in and popped the ball free from Graham's grasp which was recovered by junior defensive tackle Chad Vaudreuil, who returned it 25 yards in the other direction.
"It's heart-breaking really," said Vikings head coach Shawn Tarpey. "I feel for our kids because they left it all out there. Like any big game it often comes down to who makes more big plays. Today, Northbridge made more big plays then we did. You just not have to turn the ball over but I would want the ball in Ryan's hands any day of the week. But when you are playing a good team and are constantly trying to come from behind, mistakes are going to happen. That's what hurt us in the end."
Schofer, who came into the game with a hamstring pull, suffered a right ankle sprain during the opening minutes of the first quarter. Nevertheless, the senior wasn't about to spend his final high school game on the bench. Schofer gutted it out, relying heavily on a mix of adrenaline and his solid right arm. Schofer threw for 251 yards on 16 of 23 completions and 2 touchdowns. The offense, which compiled 358 yards, was counterbalanced by the the combined rushing attack of seniors Mike Quinn (58 yards, 1 TD) and Jake Wood (54 yards, 2 TDs).
"We knew we had to keep Koby in, especially on offense," LaChapelle said. "He still did what he did and then he came through in the end but everyone played a gutsy game. My coaches also did an outstanding job. This wasn't just a great team effort but a great team coaching effort as well."
After building an early 13-0 lead, the Rams defense started to bend some as the Vikings offense began to find holes in the Northbridge defense front and secondary.
A Peterson 39 yard scoring catch from Graham, who was 14 of 22 for 289 yards and 4 touchdowns, made it 13-7 early in the second quarter. Northbridge was able to tack on a 23 yard Geoffrey Reichert field goal before Graham hooked up with Mike Khoury for a 37-yard roll out pass in the back of the end zone with 2:43 left before the half, slicing the deficit to two.
Northbridge showed no signs of panic on its ensuing possession. Facing a third-and-13, Schofer went over the top, hitting Wood, who had a step on Nick Khoury and out-raced the junior defensive back 72 yards to the end zone, extending the Rams lead to 23-14 with 1:57 left before halftime.
But the way this game was culminating, that was still more than enough time for the Vikings to come up with an answer. That they did. Graham completed passes of 31 yards and 13 yards, respectively, to Brandon Hunter and Greg Plunkett advancing the ball inside the Northbridge 10. Facing fourth and goal from the 8, Graham took matters into his own hands, dodging a couple of would-be tacklers before crossing the goal line with 46 seconds showing to send the Vikings into the break trailing 23-20.
East Bridgewater got the ball to begin the second half and methodically drove 84 yards before the Graham found Peterson for a 34 yard scoring strike, giving the Vikings their first lead of the day.
Defense on both sides appeared lost in the shuffle throughout as neither was able to consistently bottle up the other. Following East Bridgewater's score, the Rams got the ball back on their own 36. Schofer hit on passes of 17, 11 and 12 yards to push the ball to the Vikings 2. Quinn was handed the ball and bullied into the end zone to regain the lead for Northbridge (30-27) with 3:45 to go in the third.
"I knew this game would be a battle," Schofer said. "I didn't know exactly how it would play out but it couldn't have gone any better for us."
But it didn't take long for East Bridgewater, who last won a Super Bowl crown in 1990, to respond. Behind the running of senior back Jared Vargas (70 yards on 16 carries), the Vikings advanced to the Northbridge 19. On fourth and 1, the Graham to Peterson connection came up huge once again as the receiver beat one on one coverage from Chandler Brooks to put East Bridgewater back on top 34-30 to begin the final quarter.
The offensive fireworks on both sides would continue to flourish. With 4:34 showing, Northbridge sustained a 64 yard march capped off by a Wood's 5 yard scoring run putting the Rams ahead to stay.
"Our offensive line played a great game today," Wood said. "The last two years they have been exposed in these big games. But today they were awesome and stepped it up."
Northbridge scored on its opening possession with a 2 yard carry by Wood. A Peterson fumble, recovered by Robert Baldwin Von-Brunow, would lead to a Schofer 6 yard touchdown pass to Brooks early in the second for a 13 point advantage.