NATICK — The important thing is that there is still hope.
The Redhawks would have liked to go into Friday night’s home game against Walpole High riding the momentum of another win, but Wellesley got in their way last week with a 40-36 win, ruining Natick’s hopes for a perfect season.
Disappointing as it was, the loss did not spoil Natick’s chances to make the playoffs. If the Redhawks are able to beat the unbeaten Rebels, they will be back in the driver’s seat for the Bay State Conference’s Herget title, and a Division 2A postseason berth.
“The season’s not over,” said Natick coach Mark Mortarelli .
“We’re going to treat it like we’re in the playoffs right now. We have to win to stay alive. To be honest, we knew we were going to have to beat Walpole anyway. You never want to lose a game. But in Week 10 we’re still alive, and that’s all you can really ask for. We’re still alive.”
Walpole (9-0) has not allowed a point in five games, and the Rebels are averaging 43.6 points in that span. To keep up, Natick (8-1) will lean on its high-powered spread offense, led by junior quarterback Troy Flutie . The son of former Boston College and Canadian Football League star Darren Flutie has been a dynamic two-way threat: passing for 2,054 yards and 25 touchdowns this season while rushing for 776 yards and 10 more scores.
But the game’s fate doesn’t rest solely on the arms and legs of the versatile quarterback. Pressure weighs on the shoulders of his offensive line, the ones who let him do his work. If they can’t keep Flutie on his feet, there is no offense.
“This team will go only as far as the line takes it,” said senior captain Robby Beausoleil . “We have the skill position players, we have the defense. The line just needs to do its job.”
To this point in the season, the Redhawks line has been up to the task.
It is an inexperienced group, with Beausoleil, a 6-foot, 285-pound guard, the lone returning starter from last year’s team. Senior center Brian Cummings (5-9, 190 pounds), junior guard Lee Griesmer (5-10, 245), junior tackle Keith Gusmini (6-0, 205), and senior right tackle Jesse Kattany (6-2, 200) aren’t a collection of earth movers, but together they do more than enough to let Natick move the ball.
“At first I wasn’t really sure about how they were going to do,” Flutie said of his offensive line, “or how they were going to stand against some of the bigger teams and the bigger ‘D’-lines. But as the year went on, I think they got better. They learned more. They got more experience doing it. To this point they’ve gotten very good, and I think we’ve got one of the best ‘O’-lines in the league.”
It took some time for the line to adjust to Flutie’s distinctive style. His athletic ability allows him to keep plays alive, which means blockers may be asked to do their jobs for longer periods of time, sometimes after the original protection scheme has completely broken down.
“You want to stay out of his way sometimes,” Beausoleil said of Flutie. “He’ll run right into you. You gotta keep your head on a swivel. You just try not to get a block-in-the-back penalty or anything. You gotta be smart.”
Mortarelli credits offensive line coach Brian Molone for bringing along this year’s group, which makes up for its lack of size with an ever-improving understanding of its role as the foundation on which the offense is built.
Like all of Natick’s positional groupings, the offensive line had moments when it could have performed better against Wellesley last Saturday; the game’s final play was a rare Flutie sack. But it has shown consistent improvement throughout the course of the season, and there is hope that it, as well as the rest of the Redhawks, will play its best game Friday against Walpole to keep the team’s playoff hopes afloat.
“One thing we know is that our kids are resilient,” Mortarelli said. “I know for a fact we’ll have a good week of practice. I know for a fact that we’ll prepare very well. We’ll put the work in, and then we’ll give our best effort on Friday night.
“I can’t guarantee any victories, but I know that we’ll be ready to play.”
hangs tough for win
It had been a tough year for Serge Clivio’s team. Through eight games, Arlington Catholic was winless.
“You try to keep their confidence and their spirits up,” Clivio said. “You challenge them to keep going forward. . . But I think it was a little disheartening, I think they lost their spirits in the middle of the year.”
Few could have blamed them. There was no hope for a playoff berth. No shot at a winning record. But Clivio and the Arlington Catholic staff noticed that their players continued to put forth effort in practice and that their confidence was gaining as they prepared to play at Archbishop Williams last week.
In that game, senior Justin Dall scored twice while senior linebackers David Flett and Conor McDevitt set the tone on defense, and the Cougars won, 36-18. Finally.
“It was a great victory for us,” Clivio said. “Especially after our long, hard season. When you struggle for wins and you lose a few close games, you can lose a lot of confidence, but the kids battled and came up with a great win against a very good team.”
The Cougars (1-8) travel to Bishop Fenwick (6-3) on Saturday, and Clivio says there’s still plenty to play for.
“School pride, pride of your team, your program and for yourself. All those things,” he said. “And if you come up with a big win, it’s gonna feel great. That’s what they did last week.”
on air and ground
Think Shrewsbury High’s Mike Coggeshall is ready for the postseason? The senior quarterback proved he can perform under pressure when he fired an 8-yard touchdown pass to senior Ryan Dube with four seconds left to beat Leominster, 33-32. The play was his third successful fourth-down conversion on the 54-yard, 14-play final drive.
“He just seems to play better when the game’s on the line,” Shrewsbury coach Terry Walles said of Coggeshall, a three-year starter. “He threw for almost 1,500 yards as a junior last year. This year, we’re predominantly a running team, but he certainly came through in the clutch when we needed him.”
With an effective two-pronged running attack to complement Coggeshall, the Colonials have averaged 27.0 points per game this season. Senior Zach Dionis has 12 touchdowns while junior Nick Diliberto has 11.
Shrewsbury (7-2) has all but officially locked up a spot in the Central Mass Division 1 playoffs. Other likely postseason challengers are St. John’s High (5-4), Wachusett Regional (6-3) and Leominster (5-4).
The Colonials have beaten St. John’s and Leominster but lost to Wachusett last month. A clear-cut favorite has yet to emerge among the group, but Coggeshall and his teammates will have a chance to solidify their case Friday night at home against Algonquin Regional.
Here and there
Maynard High junior Sean Peterson picked up 171 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in a 41-20 win over Murdock, breaking his school’s single-season rushing record. His total this fall sits at 1,675 yards heading into the weekend.
St. Sebastian’s running back Brendan Daly ran for 164 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries to cross the 1,000-yard milestone for the season as the Arrows beat Groton, 34-0.Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.