In a sport that focuses on yards, sometimes games are decided by mere inches.
Statistically speaking, Holliston boasts one of the best offenses in the state. The roster has a dynamic quarterback, an explosive wide receiver, and a plethora of juniors and underclassmen who should keep the Panthers in contention next fall and for falls to come.
But there’s one blemish on the season that still frustrates many of the Panthers, one that prevented Holliston from claiming its fourth Tri-Valley Large title in five seasons.
Just over a month ago, Tri-Valley powers Westwood and Holliston squared off in a regular-season contest that quickly turned an instant classic that the host Wolverines won in double overtime — after a Holliston 2-point conversion fell inches short.
On Friday, the rivals will meet again in the Division 4 South semifinals with a much greater prize at stake, as football’s sectional semifinals kick off across the state this weekend.
“We played well in a lot of spots in that game, but there was definitely room for a lot of improvement as well,” said Holliston coach Todd Kiley. “The kids have worked extremely hard this week. We feel we have a good game plan and the kids feel good about it. They’re very excited.”
In the first meeting, after falling behind 15-0 on the road, the Panthers responded with 29 straight points to take a 29-15 lead midway through the third quarter. Westwood pushed the game into overtime behind a last-second touchdown run by senior running back Dan Roache that knotted the score at 29.
Each team found the end zone in the first overtime, but both teams failed to make their respective extra-point attempts, sending the game into a second overtime tied at 35.
Holliston scored first in the second overtime as quarterback Matt Jeye connected with receiver Zach Elkinson, but Jeye’s 2-point conversion fell inches short of the pylon. On the ensuing possession, Westwood’s Bo Berluti found wide receiver Chris Hanley on third and 25 for the tying score. Forced to go for 2 by rule, Berluti elected for the quarterback keeper and danced over the goal line for the 43-41 Wolverine win.
Since their Oct. 4 meeting, the Westwood and Holliston offenses have been the crème de la crème of Division 4. The Panthers have averaged 39.3 points per game over their last three contests, including a 44-39 win over Scituate in the D4 South quarterfinals last weekend.
Elkinson collected six scores — three rushing, three receiving — in the win over the Sailors, catapulting him to the points leader in Eastern Mass. with 142 (23 touchdowns, 2 two-point conversions).
Thirteen of Elkinson’s 23 scores have come through the air courtesy of Jeye, whose 21 touchdown passes rank third in Eastern Mass. behind Natick’s Troy Flutie (36) and Lexington’s Jeff Costello (23). Jeye and Elkinson connected for three touchdowns in the first meeting with Westwood.
The Wolverines won consecutive TVL Large titles because of the play of senior captains Berluti and Roache. In his first year under center, Berluti has 14 touchdown passes, seven rushing touchdowns, and 11 2-point conversions. Roache enters Friday with 12 rushing touchdowns.
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Elsewhere this weekend, Flutie has a chance to make history Friday night when Natick squares off against host Barnstable in the Division 2 South semifinals. The senior has 101 career touchdown passes, only two behind former Everett quarterback Jonathan DiBiase’s state record of 103.
Phillips Andover (7-0) and Phillips Exeter (6-1) continue the oldest preparatory school rivalry in the country. The teams square off Saturday at 2:30 in Exeter, N.H. The rivals first met on the gridiron in 1878. Milton Academy (7-0), hoping to finish its ISL season unbeaten, travels to Nobles (5-2).