When NEPSAC announced its 2013 bowl lineup Sunday, 10 teams had reason to celebrate. For one, the Dexter School, its first bowl berth was proof that patience and a little hard work pay off.
The five-game NEPSAC schedule includes three unbeaten teams, two Evergreen League schools, and two ISL schools. But it’s the Tom Flaherty Bowl, pitting Milton Academy (7-1) at Dexter (7-1) that brought a smile to Dexter coach Casey Day.
“It was fantastic. We really wanted to play a local team, too,” said Day, in his fourth year. “We would have been happy no matter where we were playing. It’s exciting. And to top it off with our seniors getting one more game at Dexter is spectacular.”
With 424 boys enrolled, Dexter is roughly the same size as Randolph (421), a Division 4 South MIAA school. Located in Brookline, Dexter opened in 1926 and shares 36 acres with Southfield, a girls school that was established in 1992.
John F. Kennedy may have been known for backyard touch-football games, but when he was a student at Dexter there was no football team. Dexter introduced the sport slowly, starting with an intramural program. With enough players to field a team, it joined the Evergreen League in 2006 and promptly went 0-7, scoring just better than 8 points a game while giving up an average of 37.9 per game.
“We took our lumps, and now they’re seniors,” said Day, referring to the early years and his current group who began as freshmen with a 2-6 season. “Things changed from their freshman to senior years.”
One of the things that changed at Dexter was Day, 36, a Maynard High and Worcester State graduate who arrived on the scene in 2010. After improving to 4-5 in 2011, Dexter went 4-4 last fall. The table was set for 2013. Dexter capped off its 7-1 season with a 56-26 win over Pingree Saturday. Dexter’s lone loss was to unbeaten powerhouse New Hampton, 54-20.
“It’s just commitment as far as putting the work in in the offseason,” said Day, who was as an assistant coach at Weston, Nobles, BB&N, and Groton before taking over at Dexter. “Obviously we have some talented kids who are excellent football players. Sometimes you take for granted how hard these kids work.”
Four of those kids are captains, including Dan DiNicola (a UMass-Amherst commit), James Hendren (BC), Luke Cuneo (QB), and C.J. Okafor (WR/DB). Add in Luke’s twin brother, Matt, along with Mark Webber (Evergreen-leading 12 TD receptions) and slot receiver Colin O’Brien and you have a team that averaged 37.4 ppg this fall.
After being notified his team was in, Day spent much of the morning texting his players.
“They’re ecstatic. They’re really excited to have a bowl game in general, but to play an ISL team that’s right down the road from us is exciting.”
The Flaherty Bowl is just one of five announced Sunday.
In the Jack Etter Bowl, Phillips Andover (8-0) faces Brunswick (7-1) at Avon Old Farms. In the Arthur Valicenti Bowl, Suffield (8-0) will play Avon Old Farms (7-1) with the site TBA. The Dan Rorke Bowl will feature Evergreen champion New Hampton (8-0) against Cheshire Academy (7-1), again with the site TBA. In the Kevin Fleming Bowl, Governor’s Academy (7-1) will play Hamden Hall (6-2) at Tabor Academy in Marion.
All games are Saturday at 1 p.m.
It will be a busy weekend of football with the MIAA’s sectional finals, with EMass having 9 on Friday night and five on Saturday. Winners from Divisions 2-6 continue to the state semifinals the following weekend at neutral sites. Division 1, which is just in EMass, will have its North and South winners advance straight to Gillette Stadium for the Super Bowl Dec. 7.