LYNN— Classical football coach Brian Vaughan made it clear that his team hasn’t lost motivation to win despite being bounced from the Division 3 North playoffs a couple of weeks ago. The hungry Rams came to play on Friday afternoon, beating bitter cold temperatures and Peabody in a 26-20 overtime win at Manning Field.
Rams (8-2) quarterback Keith Ridley pieced together a strong showing despite the brutal winds, completing 16-of-29 pass attempts for 255 yards and two touchdowns. Ridley’s go-to target of the afternoon was Nashaun Butler, who caught seven passes for a 169 yards and two touchdowns. Malcolm Best and Marcus Tucker each ran for a touchdown.
“We set goals for ourselves at the beginning of the season,” Vaughan said. “If we didn’t reach those goals, we wanted to finish with a strong season. Some of those goals obviously weren’t reached but other goals were set in the process. Our goal is to continue winning football games. We played a tough Peabody team and we won a physical game.”
For Peabody (5-5), quarterback Jonell Espinal completed 7-of-19 pass attempts for 195 yards and two touchdowns, both caught by Elijah White. Angel Paulino tallied 19 carries for 62 yards and Eric DeMayo, who caused problems for the Rams on defense all afternoon, added a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“Eric’s injury doesn’t allow us to use him the way we want to,” Peabody coach Mark Bettencourt said. “We like to run the ball 20-25 times with him on offense. Our record might be a lot better if we could, not that one player makes a team. He’s a special talent.
“We fought hard,” Bettencourt added. “You never blame the weather. Mistakes were made and you don’t want to blame it on the weather. It came down to who could make big plays. They capitalized on our mistake in the fourth quarter and that took the wind out of our sails.”
After a scoreless first quarter, both teams began to find their rhythm in the second period. The Tanners marched to Classical’s one-yard line on their first possession of the quarter but saw the promising drive end in a fumble recovered by Robert Sirois. Two plays later, Peabody redeemed itself with a safety to take a 2-0 lead.
“Given the weather we wanted to try and pound the ball early on a little bit,” Vaughan said. “Peabody’s a physical football team and it didn’t go the way we wanted. We hit on a few runs but for the most part, Peabody controlled the line of scrimmage.”
The Tanners upped their lead to 8-0 on a 63-yard touchdown pass from Espinal to White with 2:22 left in the period (kick failed).
Needing a big play before the end of the half, Ridley fired a 30-yard touchdown strike to Butler to inch Classical back in at 8-6 after a failed two-point conversion.
Best plowed his way into the end zone on a 5-yard carry midway through the third quarter to give Classical its first lead at 12-8, and Best also rushed in the conversion. The Rams’ lead was short lived, as Peabody’s Espinal-to-White connection struck again for a 78-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 (kick failed).
“Elijah’s a real good athlete,” Bettencourt said. “It’s tough to cover him one-on-one. He’s very quick and once he beats you it’s tough to catch him. We try to look for that matchup. We knew they didn’t have help over the top when we went to our trips look.”
DeMayo’s 69-yard interception return swung the momentum back Peabody’s way early in the fourth quarter. And when Peabody had the ball on Classical’s 32-yard line with 2:13 to play, the Tanners looked ready to leave Manning with a win.
Instead, a costly Tanners fumble turned into a 68-yard touchdown toss from Ridley to Butler to knot things up at 20-20 at the end of regulation.
“We were able to open things up in our spread sets,” Vaughan said. “We saw some things we could do and things were going our way a little bit in the passing game.”
After Peabody stalled on the opening drive of overtime, Tucker carried the Rams to victory on a 10-yard touchdown run for the 26-20 win. This marks the second time Tucker has delivered late heroics as the junior scored the game-winner in the Rams’ 12-6 overtime win over Revere in Week 3.
“It shows Marcus is a hard-working kid,” Vaughan said. “He waits for his opportunities to get the ball and when he does he makes the best of it.”