EAST BRIDGEWATER — For the 12 Massachusetts High School football teams that had already earned Super bowl berths next week at Gillette Stadium, the Thanksgiving Day game forced some very interesting decisions. What was once the most important contest on the schedule has turned into a sort of exhibition game, with backup players often used to avoid injuries to starters, even if it means a loss and the end of an undefeated season.
With a Division 5 Super Bowl berth at Gillette Stadium Dec. 5 already clinched, East Bridgewater coach Shawn Tarpey made the decision to sit the starters. The result was the first loss of the season for the Vikings (11-1), a 28-0 home setback to Rockland.
On the plus side, Bridgewater will have a healthy and rested team entering next week’s state title game against Northbridge.
“We weighed the decision, but it was a no-brainer. We had to make sure we would be at full strength for the Super Bowl,” said Tarpey. “Northbridge [third consecutive Super Bowl appearance] is a very strong team. Today allowed us to see players for next year and gain some film to study. We played well, but we didn’t stop their passing game. We win next week and that’s what will be remembered forever. You may not get another chance at a Super Bowl.’’
Rockland (6-5) entered the contest on its best roll of the season, having scored 83 points in consecutive victories.
“We ended the season on a good note and we had a young team that continued to develop throughout the season,’’ Rockland coach Brian Kelliher said.
East Bridgewater’s offense, which has averaged more than 34 points per game, including a win at Rockland in September, didn’t play the senior trio of quarterback Ryan Graham, running back Jared Vargus (1,400 yards rushing), and wide receiver Jake Peterson (20 touchdowns).
The Vikings only compiled 35 total yards and only crossed midfield once. Rockland scored on its first three possessions, all touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Dunn (8 of 16 for 173 yards) to Stephen Norris (four receptions for 99 yards). The first two in the opening quarter went for 19 and 37 yards, and the second-quarter score was from 33 yards.
Rockland added a third-quarter touchdown on a 6-yard run by Kevin Levesque.