FOXBOROUGH — A hole was created, the lighthouse at Gillette Stadium was guiding running back Brad Rogers home, and Hanover could exhale.
The Indians were on the way to the Division 3 Super Bowl crown and a perfect 12-0 season.
The senior back’s third touchdown of the second half, a 33-yard dash up the middle with 2:26 left to play, had locked up a 21-0 victory over Grafton on Saturday afternoon.
“At 14-0, you feel like you have it, but you’re still a little nervous,” said Rogers, who churned out 155 yards on 26 carries.
“To punch that one in, it felt so good to know that we got it done. It’s like nothing else.”
In the first half, there was plenty to be nervous about.
Despite being largely outsized up front, Grafton (12-1) matched Hanover in a scoreless opening half, limiting the 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound Rogers to 28 yards.
“[Grafton was] strong on defense all year,” said Hanover coach Chris Landolfi. “We just had to keep pounding them and hope that they would start breaking.”
In the third quarter, Hanover came out mixing inside runs with sweeps to stretch the defense. After eight consecutive runs, Rogers broke a scoreless tie with a 9-yard scamper, with 6-4, 215-pound right tackle Ethan Hallett and right guard Pat Flynn (6-3, 270 pounds) paving the way.
“Something had to break,” said Flynn. “It was such a short game with 10-minute quarters and two teams that run the ball a lot. Someone had to prevail.”
Grafton coach Chris McMahon said Hanover’s size was a definite factor.
“We talked all week about how the more physical team was going to win the game,” he said.
“I thought for 90 percent of the game we battled though. They made a couple more plays than we did, hats off to them.”
Hanover took a 14-0 lead early in the fourth quarter after a disastrous punt attempt by Grafton. Standing on his own 1, punter Alec Cosseboom had to jump and extend his arms to snare a high snap. As he landed, his knee came down just outside the end zone.
On the next play, Rogers punched in his 26th score of the season, a single-season school record.
Defensively, Hanover held Syracuse University recruit Ifeatu Melifonwu to 73 yards on 22 carries. The Grafton offense mustered 88 yards of total offense, including a 1-for-5 passing line for minus-2 yards.
With Grafton’s wildcat offense avoiding Hanover’s interior defensive line, the burden fell on defensive ends Mike Nimeskern and Shawn McGrath.
“That was the whole game plan, you just try to contain [Melifonwu],” said Landolfi.
“The defensive ends did a tremendous job, the whole defense played well. We didn’t overrun anything, we kept our angles.”
Hanover yielded just 24 points in the first half this season.
Said Nimeskern, “You just have to do your job and stick to your assignments.
“We’re relentless. We’re beasts. Unstoppable.”
The win ended a 40-year championship drought for Hanover, which had not appeared in a Super Bowl since 1976, a 27-15 win over Holliston, the last of four consecutive titles.
Hanover 21, Grafton 0
at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
HAN — Brad Rogers 9 run (Chris Greene kick)
HAN — Brad Rogers 1 run (Chris Greene kick)
HAN — Brad Rogers 33 run (Chris Greene kick)
RUSHING — GRA, Ifeatu Melifonwu 22-73, Ethan Farrar 8-10, Matt Holbrook 2-5, Jack Fontana 1-0; HAN, Brad Rogers 26-155, Jeffrey Wheeler 3-14, Wyatt Shisler 3-5
PASSING — GRA, Matt Holbrook 0-4-1-0, Ifeatu Melifonwu 1-1-(-2); HAN, Wyatt Shisler 3-7-1-71
RECEIVING — GRA, Sean Deely 1-(-2); HAN, Andrew Carroll 2-54, Jeffrey Wheeler 1-17