Although many of the players from Duxbury’s 2019 and 2021 Super Bowl runner-up teams have since graduated, the dream of returning to Gillette Stadium and competing for another state title remained fresh with the Dragons throughout this fall.
Top-seeded Duxbury earned a third straight Super Bowl appearance Saturday afternoon when it scored 35 unanswered points to pull away from fourth-seeded Holliston for a 42-14 victory in a Division 4 state semifinal at Bridgewater-Raynham.
“I’m so excited. I’ve been waiting for 365 days,” said Duxbury junior tailback Alex Barlow, who rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. “It’s been eating at my soul and tearing me apart. We knew we wanted to be back [in the Super Bowl].”
The win propels Duxbury (10-0) into the Super Bowl against second-seeded Grafton (11-0) at Gillette Stadium, the date and time of which is TBA. Before that, the Dragons will visit Marshfield on Thanksgiving morning, while Holliston (9-2) will close out its season on Thanksgiving at home against Westwood.
Holliston built a 14-7 lead in the first quarter after Brady Sweeney and Andrew Denison each caught 14-yard touchdown passes from senior quarterback TJ Kiley. Barlow rushed for a 12-yard score in the second to help the teams head into halftime tied at 14 before the Dragons outscored the Panthers 28-0 in the final two quarters.
Barlow found the end zone twice more in the third quarter—he rushed for a 1-yard score and caught a 23-yard TD pass from senior QB Matt Festa, who scored touchdown runs of 2 and 17 yards.
“They’re two really good players,” Duxbury coach Matt Landolfi said of Barlow and Festa. “They’re tough as can be and I can count on them that they’ll make the play when they need to. I’m a lucky coach to have those two guys.”
Senior Brendan Bonner put the exclamation mark on the victory with a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, while senior Nathan Elliot made all six extra points he attempted for Duxbury.
“I thought we outplayed them in the first half, but the second half was obviously a different story,” Holliston coach Todd Kiley said. “It doesn’t diminish the heart that these kids played with today. We knew going in that we were playing the best team in the division but we knew we had a chance to beat them just because what we have in this locker room. I’m proud of our kids, just nothing went right in the second half.”
Grafton 21, Foxobrough 12 — Football is the ultimate team game, but sometimes one player makes all the difference.
Grafton’s Liam Donagher scored all three touchdowns for No. 2 Grafton in a D4 semifinal victory over No. 6 Foxborough at Bellingham High.
Grafton senior quarterback Casey Jordan connected with Donagher on seven catches for 114 yards and touchdowns of 11 and 26 yards, but Donagher’s third TD proved as dazzling as it was decisive: a 99-yard kickoff return for the final margin of victory.
The key play for the Gators (11-0) came immediately after Foxborough (6-5) scored its first touchdown to get within 14-12 on Mike Marcucella’s 67-yard scoring toss to sophomore receiver Nolan Gordon with 5:08 left.
Foxborough attempted to tie the game on a two-point conversion that failed when Marcucella rolled out and found reliable slot receiver Tony Sulham, who was tackled by Grafton’s Wesley Williams before he could cross the goal line.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball appeared to be headed into end zone for a touchback, but instead stopped at the 1-yard line.
Donagher scooped up the ball, ran right towards a wall of Foxborough defenders before cutting back to the left side of the field and outrunning the Warriors kick coverage team on his 99-yard TD return.
Donagher’s score, plus his extra point, extended Grafton’s lead to nine points, making it a two-possession game.
Grafton will face the winner of the Duxbury-Holliston semifinal in the D4 Super Bowl while Foxborough’s final game of the season is Thanksgiving morning against rival Mansfield with a Hockomock League title on the line.
Globe correspondents Brad Joyal reported from Bridgewater, Tyler Amaral from Bellingham.