ASHLAND — The Holliston football team’s motivation cup was overflowing.
Entering a key Tri-Valley League Large Division showdown with previously-unbeaten Ashland, the Panthers not only were trying to avenge a 2019 loss to the Clockers that cost them the league title, but they were also playing for injured senior quarterback Kevin Balewicz.
“I think they played inspired football for Kevin,” Holliston coach Todd Kiley said after his team’s dominant 27-0 win on a sunny, brisk Saturday afternoon. “He’s one of those kids who everyone loves. He’s a phenomenal athlete. The team rallies around him. This was a case of rallying around him today. They all wanted to do their thing to honor Kevin and they did a phenomenal job.”
Balewicz is out for the season after tearing his calf muscle in last week’s 19-14 loss to Norwood. He underwent surgery on Thursday, according to Kiley. Balewicz, who planned to play four sports this school year (golf, hockey, football and baseball), tore an anterior cruciate ligament during the 2019 football season.
“What happened to (Balewicz) was tough and it was a tragedy,” said running back Tristan Benson, who finished with a game-high 121 rushing yards and a score on 15 carries. “I think it made us come together more and it brought a whole different energy.”
But that 35-29 loss in 2019, Holliston’s first to Ashland in 18 years, was an undeniable factor, as well.
“To be honest with you, that was a big part of (this win),” Benson said. “That loss last year was one of the one things I regret in my football career. To come back and blow it up in their faces felt so good. I’m going to keep it real: It felt so good.”
The Panthers might have been too eager for revenge at the outset; newly-promoted sophomore quarterback TJ Kiley threw an interception on the first play deep in their own territory. But after forcing the Clockers to attempt a field goal, and then watching Timothy Aylward get a hand on it to keep Ashland off the board, it was all Holliston the rest of the way. The Panthers piled up 337 rushing yards and held Ashland, the 2019 Division 6 state champions, to just 94 total yards of offense.
“We had to deal with some adversity early,” said lineman/fullback Zack Athy, who scored his first varsity touchdown on a 3-yard dive in the second quarter. “You can’t beat yourself up. You have to focus on the next play. We were able to shut them down and get the ball back and the rest is history.”
Running out of a bunched double-wing formation, Holliston spread out its rushing attack, with five different players scoring a touchdown or rushing for at least 90 yards. Teddy Ratcliff (74 yards, TD), Christian Schneeloch (98 yards) and Ryan Stanwood (30 yards, TD) kept the chains moving for the Panthers, who finished with 19 first downs to Ashland’s four.
“Nothing goes anywhere without our line,” Benson said. “Our line is the main part of our offense. If they don’t move (off) the ball, we aren’t going anywhere. I can’t do my job if they aren’t. A lot of people underestimate that fact.”
Even TJ Kiley completed his final four passes for 35 yards. It was the kind of day in which everything was working for the Panthers, who now hold the advantage in a second-place tie with Ashland in the TVL Large Division with matching 2-1 records. They both trail undefeated Norwood (3-0) which defeated Westwood 32-19 on Saturday.
Ashland running back Eddie Lopez was held to 26 yards on 13 carries, while Luke Herter added 22 yards on four rushes. The Clockers didn’t get inside Holliston’s 40-yard line over the final three quarters.