FOXBOROUGH — On the concourse overlooking the field at Gillette Stadium, Nashoba players cheered, hugged, and doused coach Ken Tucker with ice water. They had done nothing but win for three months. This was different.
Displayed in the right hand of senior captain Zack Hume was a plaque that said the Chieftains were Division 2 Central Massachusetts Super Bowl champions, a distinction they earned for the second consecutive season.
“I’m keeping it,” Hume said with a smile. “I don’t know where it’s going after, but I’m not letting it go right now.”
Behind its typically stout defense, Nashoba defeated Shepherd Hill, 20-6, to extend the state’s longest winning streak to 26 games.
“We’ve been aiming for this for a year,” Tucker said. “When we walked off the field at Fitchburg State last year [after beating Holy Name] these guys knew they were going to do it again. Their goal was to get back here. They knew we’d be here if we won. We wanted to make sure we got back and won it all.”
The game was sealed when Nashoba senior defensive back Brady Schartner intercepted a pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown with 3½ minutes left.
“We felt like we tried to gamble a little bit,” said Shepherd Hill coach Chris Lindstrom, whose team trailed, 13-6, at the time of the turnover. “We probably should’ve stuck with our run. We’re looking at four minutes and saying it might take us a little bit longer to score, so we threw the pass. Normally we would’ve run the ball. But the kid made a nice play, and good for them. They’re a good football team. “
Moments earlier, Schartner thought he let his team down. Lined up at receiver, he believed he ran an incorrect route that resulted in Jack Sarnoski’s pass being intercepted by Shepherd Hill senior defensive back Kyle Amico.
Sarnoski said the play was his mistake, but Schartner was thankful he helped Nashoba recover with his defensive TD.
“We got pressure on the quarterback,” Schartner said. “All I had to do was take a couple of steps up. [The ball] hit me in the chest. Full credit goes to putting pressure on the quarterback.”
Until then, it had been a one-possession game.
Nashoba (13-0) got on the scoreboard first with just more than nine minutes remaining in the first half. After stopping Shepherd Hill on a fourth and 2 at Nashoba’s 28-yard line, the Chieftains put together a five-play drive capped by senior Andrew Cross’s 14-yard touchdown run.
Shepherd Hill (10-3) responded early in the second half with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Ravenelle to Chris Dutting. A failed 2-point conversion left the Rams trailing, 7-6.
Nashoba — which did not trail in any game this season — answered on its next possession. Elijah Williams punctuated a six-play, 56-yard drive by trotting into the end zone untouched from 5 yards.
“It was huge to respond to that,” Tucker said of Shepherd Hill’s score. “I kept telling them, we’re not here to be hesitant, we’re not here playing not to lose. We’re playing to win this game.”
And when they did, they celebrated like they hadn’t all season.
“I can’t even explain it right now,” Cross said. “It’s the best feeling I’ve felt in my life and it’s not going to go away for a long time. For the rest of our lives we’re going to remember this thing. Greatest day ever.”