FOXBOROUGH — Twice with the game on the line in the fourth quarter and Stoneham needing to make a game-changing play, the Spartans defensive line came through and recovered two fumbles.
First, late in the fourth quarter with the Spartans trailing Old Rochester, 20-18, and having just taken over on defense after losing a fumble deep in Bulldogs territory, junior defensive lineman Chris Belliveau stripped Desmond Dias, ORR’s star running back, and senior linebacker Jonathan Neal jumped on the ball.
“When that play started, I saw [Dias] fumble,” Belliveau said. “And I went to get the ball and I just stripped it from him.”
After a scrum around the ball lasted a few seconds, the Stoneham players wildly signaled that they had recovered the fumble and Neal emerged with the ball in his hands.
“I was honestly so happy [Neal recovered the ball],” Belliveau said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get it or not.”
On the next play, Stoneham running back Christos Argyropoulos took a toss 42 yards to the end zone, and in the blink of an eye, the Stoneham defense went from having to force a turnover to get the ball back, to needing to hold off a potential ORR game-winning drive with under three minutes left.
“[In the huddle] we were saying everyone had to step up,” said senior defensive lineman Antonio Ventresca. “Everybody just had to step up and do their job.”
As Old Rochester worked its way near midfield, the Stoneham defense’s confidence never wavered, as the Spartans knew they needed to tighten up.
“We knew we had to put in everything we had to get that stop,” Belliveau said.
With less than two minutes left in the game, Stoneham got its chance to make that stop. Old Rochester quarterback Cole McIntyre fumbled diving for a first down, and the ball was up for grabs.
As the loose ball squirted out from underneath McIntyre, Ventresca pounced on it.
“[I saw] the ball come loose and pop out to the side, so I jumped on it,” Ventresca said. “It was awesome.”
Three runs and one first down later the clock ran out, and on the back of two game-changing defensive plays, Stoneham was officially crowned Division 6 champions.Jake Caccavaro can be reached at email@example.com.