FOXBOROUGH — A battle between two of the most explosive offenses in Eastern Massachusetts came down to a defensive stop.
There was no doubt that Troy Flutie would lead Natick with a solid outing, and Brendan Flaherty and Kenny Pierce ran Beverly’s dual attack offense.
But in the end, all that was important for Beverly was Flutie’s incomplete pass as time expired, which sent the Panthers into celebration mode, capping their unbeaten season with a 28-21 victory in the Division 2A Super Bowl championship at Gillette Stadium.
“We had confidence in the team,” said Beverly coach Dan Bauer. “We came to play to win and we weren’t going to go away unless we won this game”
Trailing, 21-14, in the fourth quarter, the Redhawks drove 78 yards in 14 plays to cut the deficit to 7. Natick running back Nick Lee punched in the 2-yard touchdown run.
It seemed Beverly would be able to ice the game using Flaherty and Pierce to run the clock, but Natick’s tough defense, despite losing captain Mike Dunlap to a knee injury in the third quarter, came up with a big stand on third down.
On fourth and short, the Panthers sent their punt team out, then called a timeout, reconsidered, and went for it. Bauer’s call proved to be a game changer as Beverly kept the chains moving and clock running, forcing Natick to use all its timeouts.
A kneeldown would’ve secured the victory for the Panthers, yet the aggressive offense decided to run the ball and fumbled inside the 5-yard line. The Redhawks recovered at their 1, with a little more than a minute left, but couldn’t muster up the equalizer.
“That’s a very good team, there’s no shame in losing to a team that’s very well-balanced,” said Natick coach Mark Mortarelli. “We were right there in the end and I’m very proud of the way our kids played.”
Beverly gained 347 total yards on offense, all on the ground. The Panthers only attempted one pass, but found a way to rally with their smash-mouth running attack.
“[Flaherty] made the plays when it counted but he made those around him better,” Bauer said. “That’s the absolute key. It’s not a one-man team, but he increased the level of play and he led them.”
Despite being in double coverage the majority of the game, Redhawks wide receiver Brian Dunlap still caught two touchdowns. Beverly’s defensive scheme forced Natick to spread the ball and it responded to the challenge.
Flutie finished 21 of 34 for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
However, it was the Panthers celebrating.
“It feels great,” said Flaherty. “We’ve been here before but here we are, 13-0. We just wanted to finish what we started. You always want to go out on top. Our motto all year was to finish and we did that today.”