DANVERS — Classical coach Brian Vaughan put it best.
“We tell our kids to take care of the football,” he said, after the Rams knocked Danvers from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 28-14 win at Dr. Deering Stadium. “And we tell them to try to take away the football.”
Turnovers. How many times have you heard coaches from the NFL to Pop Warner say that if you win the battle of the turnovers, you’ll most likely win the game.
The 5-0 Rams can attest to that.
In the second quarter, with the score tied at 7-7, Danvers had a first and goal on the Classical 2-yard line. But Danvers fumbled, and Classical’s Chase Buono fell on it and it was crisis averted.
Then, in the third quarter, Danvers quarterback Justin Mullaney went back to pass, let it fly, and Ishmael Johnson stepped in front of the ball, intercepted it, and ran it back to the house. Then, his PAT gave Classical at 14-7 lead.
“Obviously, said Vaughan, “those were the two key plays in the game. Ishmael is a senior leader, a captain, and he made a good read on the ball.”
The game was an old-fashioned rock-em, sock-em affair with bruising hitting on both sides (in the course of the game, four Falcons had to be helped off the field, including senior all-purpose back Tahg Coakley, who missed almost the entire second half.)
“These are two tough teams, and there are a lot of tough kids,” said Vaughan, “and this was a tough game. It was a real good game. Danvers didn’t quit. They kept coming at us.”
Offensively, this was the Keith Ridley show for Classical. The junior quarterback ran for 158 yards on 19 carries, and galloped his way to three touchdowns.
He scored his first one on a 38-yard run with 6:05 left in the first quarter. Danvers threatened twice after that, but Classical’s defense stood tall. The Falcons tied the game on a blocked punt by Coakley, who then gathered the ball up and ran 44 yards for the score.
Classical was in danger of falling behind until Buono recovered the fumble, and responded in the third quarter by going ahead on Johnson’s interception.
With Coakley out of the game, Classical’s defense took over and the score remained at 14-7 until the fourth quarter, when Ridley ran one in from four yards out and it was 20-7.
Undaunted, Danvers marched downfield, with the help of a costly roughing-the-passer penalty on Classical, and scored on a Mullaney-to-Mattheu Reidy 9-yard pass.
Desperate to run down the clock and close out the Falcons, the Rams instead found themselves with a fourth-and-15 from the Danvers 37. Everyone in the stadium expected Classical to punt, but instead Ridley lined up about eight yards behind center, took the shotgun snap, and shot straight up the middle for the touchdown that put the game out of reach.
“Once they got up on us,” said Danvers coach Ryan Nolan, “they kind of wore us down.
“We’ll learn from this,” he said.