WELLESLEY — The stage was set for Troy Flutie to lead No. 7 Natick to an incredible comeback Saturday afternoon in Wellesley. Down by 6 with no timeouts and the ball on their 37-yard line, the Redhawks drove 36 yards to get within 27 yards of the end zone. But as Flutie tried to hurry back to the line and spike the ball, time ran out.
A Natick sideline that was vocal and energized throughout the whole game stood silent as Wellesley celebrated a thrilling 40-34 win on its home field. It was an emotional victory for the Raiders, especially the seniors.
“This game was really won in the offseason,” said Raiders quarterback Chris Sarni. “We thought of this moment when we were lifting weights, running, and throwing. This was just a great win.”
Wellesley scored on its first three possessions of the second half, but facing a 20-point deficit with just eight minutes left to play, Natick was just a few seconds away from remaining undefeated.
In the fourth quarter, a crucial fourth-down stop by the Raiders’ defense, led their final touchdown. Sarni scored on a 9-yard scamper to make the score 40-20. Flutie answered, throwing a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andrew Boynton.
The pressure was on Natick’s defense and it delivered, forcing a momentum-changing three-and-out. Flutie led a revamped Redhawks squad 59 yards in nine plays, capping off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run.
Natick’s versatile quarterback finished with more than 30 completions for 400 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried the ball 15 times for 80 yards and a touchdown.
On any other day of the season, that probably would’ve been enough for a victory. However, Sarni refused to be denied. The 5-foot-9-inch, 170-pound quarterback took control of the game from the first drive, completing four of his five passes, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Matt Dziama.
How would Natick respond? Flutie to Brian Dunlap, of course.
The Redhawks’ versatile duo connected on an 84-yard bomb and on a 25-yarder, going ahead, 13-7, in the second quarter, Natick’s only lead of the game.
Dunlap finished with 16 catches for 281 yards and two touchdowns. The determined Raiders responded in just one play on their next drive, a 66-yard touchdown strike from Sarni to Dziama.
“I’m in charge of our defense and we didn’t tackle well,” said Natick coach Mark Mortarelli. “Every adjustment we made in coverage they exploited, so I take the blame for this. They outplayed us.”
Sarni’s ability to break tackles and use his speed to make plays down the field was the difference. He completed 17 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 16 times for 135 yards and three rushing touchdowns.
“We executed our game plan this week, coaches did a great job,” said Jesse Davis, first-year coach at Wellesley. “We only had three days of practice because of the hurricane, but the kids really pulled through.
“When we play mistake-free football, we’re a good football team. It was all about being able to play through the adversity.”