Matt Jeye knelt over Holliston High teammate Paul Beling and pleaded with him.
“You’d better be OK,” Jeye said, “because we need you for another quarter.”
Beling had been on the receiving end of a 72-yard completion from Jeye before getting the wind knocked from his lungs at the Westwood High 3-yard line.
Three plays and two Panthers penalties later, the tight end got open in a corner of the end zone and caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to give visiting Holliston a 28-20 lead with 10 minutes left in last week’s playoff game.
“I was feeling good by that point,” Beling recalled with a smile.
Holliston has just four seniors on its roster.
Jeye, Beling, Colman Regan, and Austin Barrett — all captains — pushed each other to play significant roles in the Panthers’ 35-20 win over Tri-Valley League rival Westwood, which vaulted Holliston into the Division 4 South title game Friday at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional on Cape Cod.
Jeye finished the game with 232 yards passing, three touchdowns (one rushing), and two interceptions, while Beling caught five passes for 148 yards and a score. Regan picked off two Westwood passes, one with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and Barrett kept Jeye protected and opened up holes for the Panthers’ running game while anchoring the offensive line.
Jeye said that even during their most tense games, like in Westwood, the four seniors provide one another both encouragement and tough love — as a family might.
“The captains are like the brothers to me,” Jeye said. “They tell me to pick my head up when I do something bad. I tell them to pick their heads up when they do something bad. I get on my guys; they get on me. Tonight we were able to finish it off.”
Now 8-1, the Panthers are just two wins away from making a Super Bowl in the team captains’ final season.
Their journey as Holliston’s leaders started months ago. After the varsity lost 20 players from last fall’s roster, the rising seniors helped set the tone for underclassmen in the offseason, during summer weightlifting sessions at the high school and in passing-league games in Franklin.
Those underclassmen — including junior defensive lineman and running back Joe Bellomo and junior receiver and returner Zach Elkinson, who scored twice against Westwood and leads the team with a whopping 25 touchdowns — have helped carry the young Panthers squad.
But in tight contests like last week’s game, a rematch of a 43-41 double-overtime Holliston loss at Westwood High’s Flahive Field on Oct. 4, it was only natural for the team to turn to its seniors again for leadership.
“The momentum was shifting a little bit there in the fourth quarter, but we didn’t get down on ourselves,” head coach Todd Kiley said. “We held our composure; we turned to our seniors — our four seniors that we have. They kind of just put the team on their back, and we came through.”
Jeye grew emotional when trying to put into words what the win over Westwood meant to him and his classmates. He made the varsity baseball team in his freshman year and the varsity basketball team as a sophomore, but had not earned the full-time starting quarterback job until this season.
“He’s our leader,” Kiley said. “He’s the guy this whole team looks to. He’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s not going to kill you with speed or arm strength, necessarily. But he’s got great skills and he’s a winner. I would take that over any kid that ran a 4.4 [40-yard dash] and throws the ball a mile any day of the week.
“Don’t get me wrong. He has a good arm. And he’s got decent speed, but his best attribute is just that he’s a winner, and he refuses to lose. You go to far places with kids like that. And we’re moving on.”
When the game ended, Holliston’s fans, the “Red Sea,” spilled onto the field to celebrate with players seemingly exhausted from the physical and emotional drain. The crowd included Panthers from years past, such as Donald Murphy, now a freshman offensive lineman at Westfield State University, who thanked his former teammates for beating the team he could not (Holliston lost to Westwood on Thanksgiving, 42-14, last fall).
It was the kind of scene Beling longed for when he played varsity football at a high school in Montpelier before returning to his hometown of Holliston for his sophomore year.
“It’s unbelievable to see the culture here and how much the town gets around us and supports us,” he said. “Nothing happens without the Red Sea.”
And Holliston knows its playoff run could not happen without its four seniors.
“This was kind of a class that’s always been small in numbers, and it’s dwindled and dwindled,” Kiley said. “These guys just stuck it out and stuck it out. Nobody gave us a chance this year. When you only have four seniors. . . I’m just so happy for those guys.”
Littleton strikes fast with new ‘Lightning’
As recently as five years ago, Littleton High coach Mike Lynn had his team running an offense that relied primarily on Wing-T principles. Then came along a class of players with unusually skilled athletes, including quarterback Alex McLaughlin and receiver Travis Bassett .
To take advantage of their abilities, it was only logical to move to a different style.
Now, Lynn uses what he calls the “Lightning” offense — a no-huddle, spread scheme in which plays are called from the sidelines by flashing colored indicators and hand signals — almost exclusively. McLaughlin and Bassett have capitalized on the shift and helped lead the Tigers to the Division 6 Central title game.
Bassett, a senior who also plays running back and returns kicks, leads Central Mass. in scoring with 21 touchdowns and 12 two-point conversions.
McLaughlin, the team’s senior quarterback, has rushed for 1,057 yards and 15 touchdowns. and thrown for 1,091 yards and 13 more scores.
Lynn said the three-year starter will graduate as the most accomplished player in his 12-year tenure as head coach.
“I don’t like to highlight individual kids, but with these two guys, it’s kind of unavoidable,” Lynn said. “We have a great team this year. Everybody knows their role, but those two, definitely, their stats speak for themselves. They’ve really propelled us to the next level.”
Lynn hopes that on Friday night Littleton has enough speed too get past Blackstone Valley Regional Tech’s 4-3 defense, whose strength up front is its most noteworthy attribute.
“They definitely have the advantage in team size,” Lynn said of Friday’s rival, which has matched Littleton’s 9-0 record this fall. “Their line definitely has more brawn than our line. I think we have the advantage in team speed, but they’re very good.”
Natick’s Flutie takes aim at state TD mark
Natick High senior quarterback Troy Flutie has 37 touchdown passes this season and needs just one against Needham on Friday night to tie the state’s career mark of 103 set by Jonathan DiBiaso for Everett High two years ago.
Flutie surpassed the state record for all-time passing yards, held by 2012 Barnstable High grad D.J. Crook, in a win over King Philip Regional on Nov. 1. He now has 8,497 career yards passing with two games left to play.