NATICK — Terrance Cherry did his homework.
As he watched talented Wellesley quarterback Matt Maiona on a crucial 2-point attempt with a minute left, the Natick linebacker noticed the play was developing similarly to what he saw the Raiders run to victory a week ago, when Maiona called his own number up the middle to beat Newton North in overtime.
Cherry stuck to his assignment — follow the guard — and met Maiona at the line of scrimmage for the game-saving tackle with 1:06 left, sending the crowd into a frenzy and preserving a hard-fought, 14-13 win that allowed the No. 6 Redhawks to improve to 5-0.
“I saw the guard pull and I just attacked at that point. I shot the hole before the guard could even get there,” Cherry said. “And then I ran over to our sideline, looked at the crowd and pointed to the ground and said, ‘This is what I do.’ I was so happy we stopped them.”
Asked about the bold decision to go for it, Wellesley coach Jesse Davis said it was a matter of confidence.
“We’re playing tough here on the road,” said Davis after his squad dropped to 4-1.
“They’re an excellent football team, I thought we had some momentum, and I trusted my players.”
Based on the way the game went to that point, it’s understandable.
Natick’s brutish defensive line, led by 345-pound, UMass-bound tackle Josh Atwood, lived up to the hype, registering a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. But the Raiders were able to move the ball behind an array of counter and sweep reads, led by Maiona (14 of 26, 132 yards, TD), plus running backs Jon Marvan and Chris Althoff.
Then, down 14-0, the Raiders took to the air. First, Maiona found Anthony Perez wide open, breaking for the post for a 14-yard score with 6:34 to go. Then, the No. 20 Raiders used some trickeration to close it to 14-13, backup quarterback Sam Gear taking a jet sweep handoff and finding Perez at the back pylon for a 26-yard score.
Maiona was then stuffed on the 2-point try, met by a swarm led by Cherry.
Quarterback Will Lederman (151 total yards) was formidable on the ground for Natick, as was running back Jalyn Aponte (18 carries, 76 yards), who accounted for both Redhawk touchdowns.