NEW BEDFORD — After giving up a pair of touchdowns in the first half, the Whalers’ defense put the clamps on Brockton’s offense just long enough to stage a thrilling second-half comeback.
Quarterback Chandler Debrosse connected with wide receiver Kevin Nunes for two touchdowns and a critical 2-point conversion, as New Bedford stunned Brockton, 21-19, to secure the Big 3 automatic playoff bid and its first trip to the postseason since 2011. The postseason pairings will be announced Sunday.
With the loss, Brockton (3-4, 1-1) was eliminated from the playoffs. The Boxers last lost to New Bedford in 2010, also by 2 points, 23-21.
“We just tried to stay confident with our kids,” New Bedford coach Dennis Golden said. “It shouldn’t have been a 13-0 game [at the half]. I probably messed up, I got overanxious. But our defense was playing well and I felt we could stop them.
“We’ve been balanced, we do throw a lot. When we were able to establish some run game, it helped with the pass game. They’ve got to respect both.”
After opening the second half with an onside kick, New Bedford (3-4) scored on back-to-back possessions to tie the game, 13-13. Hector Diaz’s 3-yard run made it 13-7, and Debrosse hit Nunez for a 3-yard score, which tied it with 2:03 to play in the third quarter. The PAT kick was no good.
Later in the fourth quarter, Brockton’s Aaron LeClair came up 2 yards short of a first down, and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving New Bedford the ball at the Brockton 34. On second and 20, Debrosse hit Nunez for a 44-yard score. New Bedford faked the extra-point kick, and Debrosse connected with Nunes for the 2-point conversion to make it 21-13 with 4:16 to play.
“We had the wind at our backs, so we wanted to pass the ball,” Nunes said. “[Debrosse] just came out ready to play. He was good up front with the line and his pass was perfect.”
Brockton started the next drive at its own 29 when the Boxers assembled a dramatic drive that nearly tied the game. After a pair of unsuccessful rushes and a holding penalty, they faced third and 30 from the 9-yard line.
Quarterback Patrick Burke completed a 34-yard pass to tight end DeChristopher Joseph for the improbable first-down conversion. Burke then dumped a screen to LeClair, who ran 15 yards to take it to the New Bedford 42. LeClair followed that with a 12-yard rush to get to the Whalers’ 30.
Facing fourth and 10, Joseph made a juggling catch for a 12-yard gain. Then, despite double-team coverage, Joseph caught an 18-yard pass and got his foot down at the side of the end zone with 25 seconds remaining to make it 21-19. However, Burke was stuffed on the 2-point conversion.
Brockton recovered the onside kick with 21 seconds left, and on fourth and 10, Burke completed a pass to convert the first down. His final Hail Mary pass was swatted away.
“Right off the bat, the onside kick, they got nice field position,” Brockton coach Peter Columbo said. “I was proud of our kids for fighting back, but the 2-point conversion was short by inches. We just didn’t finish again.”