The play was “Seminole right bunch strong sprint right flare window sideline.”
As Hopkinton High broke its huddle, quarterback Hank Rudden gave receiver Shaun Palmer a familiar look. They both knew exactly where the ball was going.
Seconds later, Rudden rolled out of the pocket to his right, and his offensive line gave him the time he needed to complete a 2-yard pass to Palmer for a touchdown.
In their final high school football game, Hopkinton’s prolific senior pass combination finished their careers with a flourish. The Hillers beat Ashland on Thanksgiving Day, 41-12, with Rudden’s 18th touchdown pass and Palmer’s 11th touchdown catch for the season on that quick-hitting third-quarter play both tying school records.
Neither player was focused on setting individual marks entering the game, but the milestones made their football finale for Hopkinton (9-2) all the more memorable.
“My coaches kept telling me, ‘Whatever happens, savor all this because you’re never going to get it again,’ ” said Rudden, who tossed four touchdown passes on the day. “Throughout the game, I tried to do that, and after the game, I can remember everything that happened. I just took in as much as I could.”
Both Rudden and Palmer did their best to absorb every moment of their prolific season, because they knew what it was like to have to wait for their chance.
As juniors, neither stood out against the talented players ahead of them on the depth chart; then-seniors quarterback Mike Decina and receiver Alex Hulme also reached the records for touchdown passes and receptions last season.
Rudden started three games last fall when Decina missed time with an illness, but the job was waiting for Decina when he returned.
And at 6-foot-4, Palmer was a regular starter, but he was the fourth receiving option in Hopkinton’s spread offense.
“You gotta pay your dues,” Palmer said. “But once it was time, I think we all really stepped up. We had some big shoes to fill, but once you do it, once you’re a senior, it’s all worth it.”
The chemistry between Palmer and Rudden began long before high school. They played basketball together, and were teammates in the Hopkinton-Ashland Pop Warner football program.
In their sophomore year, the first season at Hopkinton for coach Jim Girard, they learned about the spread attack and produced almost instantly. Rudden quickly adapted to the pass-happy offense, and learned to trust his big receiver enough to lob passes his way even when he was covered.
This summer, the Hillers participated in a passing league in Franklin, where Rudden and Palmer further developed their rapport to the point where they could give one another a nod in the huddle and know they were thinking the same thing.
“They know each other as athletes, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and they tried to capitalize on those strengths,” Girard said. “I think that’s probably just a testament to coming up through the program, working hard to get better, whether they’re working on Friday nights or Thursday afternoons for the freshman team, or on Monday afternoons for JV. They worked up through the system and got better and better.”
With a Week 10 loss to Westwood, Hopkinton was eliminated from playoff contention. Still, Girard’s team, led by Rudden, Palmer and 10 other seniors, played Ashland like it was a Super Bowl.
Palmer’s two touchdown catches on Thanksgiving — he also reeled in an 18-yard pass from Rudden — gave him at least one score in every game this season. He ended the year with 29 catches for 467 yards.
Rudden’s big day allowed him to close the books on the season having completed 53 percent of his passes for 1,647 yards.
Both Rudden and Palmer have already shifted their attention to the varsity basketball season, where they hope their connection — now as point guard and forward — can continue.
Rudden hopes to play football in college and is in the process of putting together a video with his best plays to send off to schools. No surprise, the clips co-star a particular set of hands. “Shaun’s all over the highlight tape,” Rudden said.
Acton-Boxborough finds victory a snap
Acton-Boxborough Regional’s team just wanted to tie the game. But when the Colonials went to kick the point-after attempt while trailing by one with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter against Westford, something went wrong. It might have been a bad snap or a fumbled snap. Either way, it was botched.
Senior holder Billy Jackman scooped up the ball, ran left, ran right, then found Mike Murphy in the end zone for a helter-skelter 2-point conversion that gave the Colonials a 36-35 win on Thanksgiving.
“Usually we have a play we call ‘Fire’ for that situation,” coach Bill Maver said. “Every team does. You yell ‘Fire!’ when you start to scramble, to let the eligible receivers know they should go out for a pass and let the lineman know that they shouldn’t. But I asked [Jackman] after the game and he said never said anything. It was one of those things, no one really knows what happened. It just came out good.”
Senior Denali Trimble came up with Acton-Boxborough’s next big play when he recovered the strategic onside kick by senior Jack Perry, and the Colonials offense ran out the clock to win the game.
“It’s a great Thanksgiving story,” Maver said. “Denali is a senior who has been in our program for four years, a special teams player, doesn’t get a lot of playing time, but he made the big recovery.”
For Concord-Carlisle seniors, a painful end
Concord-Carlisle senior captains Evan Boynton and Tommy Crowley weren’t used to the kind of season the Patriots had this fall. After back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the inexperienced team, which sometimes featured 10 sophomore starters, finished 4-7 and out of the playoffs.
“You hope that every rep is a great investment in the younger guys,” coach Mike Robichaud said. “That’s no consolation for the seniors. That’s been the toughest thing, to watch [Boynton], who’s been such a great performer for us for three years, and [Crowley], another one of our captains who’s been a rock-solid player on both sides of the ball.
“It hurts to see the seniors not experience the kind of success we’ve had the last few years. But they’re good kids and they’ve done a great job leading the younger guys.”
For Boynton and Crowley, their Thanksgiving loss to Bedford, 35-34, will not be their final football game.
Boynton will play at Amherst College next year, while Crowley will suit up for conference rival Middlebury.