HOPKINTON — Wearing little in the way of warm clothing against the frigid elements, Connor Hebert felt no pain. Instead, the Hopkinton senior running back embraced the numbing cold with a certain sense of bravado.
“Cold?” Hebert said. “The weather was great. It was outstanding outside. None of us were cold. The weather was awesome.”
Hebert delighted in frolicking in Friday night’s frigid temperatures, running 25 times for 165 yards and capping his night with a 28-yard scoring run that punctuated Hopkinton’s 28-19 victory over Milton in the Division 4 South final at Dave Hughes Stadium.
The Hillers (10-0) advanced to the state semifinals, where they will take on Melrose.
“This means everything to the team, we been working for this since Day 1,” said Hebert.
The Wildcats (7-2) were eliminated despite an opening flash from Smith Charles, the state’s reigning 100-meter champion, who electrified the crowd by scoring on a 72-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage.
“We knew they were going to be a fast team and we knew they were going to come out flying,” Hebert said. “And so we wanted to limit the big plays.”
Hopkinton’s defense did precisely that as the Hillers erupted for 21 unanswered points to take a 21-7 halftime lead.
Will Abbott scored a tying touchdown on 26-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Kelleher with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
After Milton was unable to generate any offense, Abbott gave the Hillers the lead for good, 13-7, when he capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive with a 6-yard TD run with 4:49 remaining in the first half.
The Wildcats fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Hopkinton capitalized when Kelleher scored a 1-yard touchdown with 1:32 remaining.
“We didn’t play well,” said Milton coach Steve Dembowski. “We had a great start, but we didn’t think they’d be able to run the ball on us like they did.”
The Wildcats clawed their way to within 21-13 on Charles’ second-effort 1-yard TD run in the fourth, but were dealt a blow by Hebert’s 28-yard scoring run. Milton, though, managed one last parting shot on Luke McMenamin’s 9-yard TD pass to Eddie Hassell as time expired.
“They had great speed and they dominated the line on both sides,” Dembowski said. “We didn’t run the ball well, we didn’t throw the ball well, but we competed. But you have to credit them, they were clearly the better team.”Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.