As the final seconds ticked away in host Bishop Fenwick’s 36-27 Thanksgiving Day win over the Pingree School, a referee approached Fenwick head coach Dave Woods.
“He told me he’s done games all over — Xaverian, BC High, Central Catholic — and he said Nick Bona is the best two-way player he’d seen in Eastern Mass,” recalled the 16-year head coach.
I told him, “I’m not going to argue with that.”
Bona has been the rock, and unquestioned leader, of an 11-0 squad that will play Northbridge (9-2) in Saturday’s Division 5 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
At quarterback, the senior captain from Peabody has passed for 1,300-plus yards while running for 900 more. At weakside linebacker, he has racked up 198 tackles, breaking his own school record (171) set last fall.
Oh, and he’s only 5-feet-8, 150 pounds.
“I’ve never really thought size matters,” said Bona, one of seven two-way starters for Fenwick.
“I mean if you want it more than the other person, that’s all it takes.”
He plays every snap of the game, also kicking off and blocking on special teams, and Woods would never think to take him off the field.
“Nick has always had the ability to fight through the physical fatigue and mentally push himself through,” said Woods.
“When he was a sophomore, he played his first five games with a fractured vertabra . . . . I don’t think I’ll ever have another kid like him.”
Bona says it is beneficial being a two-way player, noting that it enables him to know what’s going on in the head of the opposition.
“When I’m at linebacker I kind of know what the quarterback’s looking at, so I know where to drop to. It’s the same thing at quarterback. You kind of know where the linebackers are going to be,” said Bona, who is excited to play his final high school game on the same turf where the Patriots will play on the following day.
“I’ve been playing both ways since I was 7 years old, so it really just comes naturally.”
At Tewksbury High, the mindset of a two-way starter comes naturally to Division 3 Super Bowl-bound receiver/cornerback Kevin Dick .
“I deal with a lot of cramps, so every week I’m fighting them off,” said Dick, a three-sport captain from Dracut, and all-conference selection (football, basketball, and lacrosse).
“Once you get them, there’s nothing you can really do. It’s pretty much inevitable for me, but once you get them you’ve got to fight through and keep going.”
His coach, Brian Aylward, believes Dick is one of the top receivers in the state, while also being a major factor in other areas of the game.
“We ask him to do so much,’’ said the 17-year head coach, who played for the Redmen in the ’80s alongside Dick’s father, Brian, also a receiver.
“He’s done a great job with blocking, he’s a force on the field on either side of the ball, and what gets lost in the shuffle is how effective he is as a punter.”
Dick’s entire family has lived and breathed football; most notably, his great-grandfather Ray Riddick, who played for the Green Bay Packers in the 1940s and was the head coach at Lowell High from 1947 to 1975.
Like Bona, he reaps the benefits of playing both ways, saying: “As a receiver, I know what bugs me and what gets under my skin, so when I’m on the other side as a corner I try to do that to other receivers. As a receiver, I don’t like to be jammed at the line, so as a corner I try to get in their head and rough ‘em up a little bit.”
Dick and the undefeated Redmen (12-0) will take on a fully rested Plymouth South squad (9-2) in the Division 3 Bowl.
“I can’t believe it’s my last game, and to be playing it on the biggest stage in New England is a special thing,” Dick said.
Kicking off 2½ hours before Tewksbury will be Central Catholic (10-1), which would not have made it to the biggest stage without its two-way senior captain, Cody Demers.
In the Division 1 state semifinals against Everett, the 5-10 receiver beat Wisconsin-bound defensive back Lubern Figaro on a 24-yard slant-and-go, catching the ball in the corner of the end zone despite interference from Figaro.
“He’s a clutch kid and I think that play typifies him,” said Central coach Chuck Adamopoulos.
“Our playoff season was on the line and he makes a great catch against a great player in the end zone to advance. He’s a big-play man and he always picked us up with big plays, whether it’s interceptions, punt returns, or kick returns.”
On Everett’s ensuing drive, Demers deflected two critical passes, ensuring his team its first Super Bowl berth since 1998.
Demers said: “It comes down to having a lot of discipline, staying focused on both sides of the ball, definitely being conditioned to be able to last all four quarters.”
His conditioning paid off: The Raiders will meet Xavarian (10-1) — the only other squad to beat the three-time defending champion Crimson Tide this season.
A Thanksgiving miracle
With Reading trailing Stoneham 30-6 on Thanksgiving Day, Drew Belcher willed his team to a jaw-dropping 44-36 triple overtime win.
“We had played 44 minutes and there was a lot of celebrating going on on the other sideline and the game wasn’t over, so that really fired our kids up,” said Reading coach John Fiore.
The 6-4 quarterback threw two touchdowns and ran for one in the fourth quarter to tie the game.
He tossed a TD pass in the third OT before rushing in the eventual game-winner in the third overtime as the defending Division 2 Super Bowl champs ended their season on a high note.
“All three years with him as the starter, we’ve been in the postseason, said Fiore, whose squad had 29 wins over that span.
“With Drew’s arm, you always have a chance, no matter what the situation is on the clock.”
Lessard to the rescue
Lynn English trailed Lynn Classical 12-6 with less than a minute remaining in the teams’ 100th Thanksgiving Day matchup. And the Bulldogs faced an improbable scoring situation: fourth and 19 from the Classical 28.
Junior quarterback Lucas Harris threw one to the back of the end zone and senior receiver Chris Lessard leaped high and snatched the ball for the score, then nailed the game-winning extra point.
He’s been doing that all year,” said English coach Peter Holey . He may be one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”
Lessard scored all 13 points for the Bulldogs, and hauled in a 31-yard highlight-reel grab on their final possession.
“I think people are definitely going to talk about this game for a long time and I’m going to remember this game for the rest of my life,” Lessard said.