BRAINTREE — Throughout the regular season and North sectionals, the St. Mary’s football team was dominant, rolling through its schedule with ease to earn a spot in the Division 7 Eastern Mass. final.
But it was in Saturday’s final, with a chance to make a return to the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium on the line, that the Spartans ran into their biggest test of the season: 2-time reigning Super Bowl champion, Mashpee.
The Falcons, behind Devaun Ford’s phenomenal performance (253 yards on 36 carries, two touchdowns), won the battle of the undefeated teams, 28-20, at Braintree High School to earn a third straight trip to Gillette. St. Mary’s, which never led and was forced to play catch up the entire game, ends its season at 10-1.
“They were good as advertised. They’re an excellent high school football program,” St. Mary’s coach Matt Durgin said. “We may have lost, but our kids stepped up and we played with them the whole game. It went back and forth, and it’s a bounce here or there. But we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Mashpee is a great football program, and so are we. Our kids did a great job.”
The Spartans were forced to play from behind for just the second time this season early on. After a three-and-out on St. Mary’s opening drive, Mashpee marched down the field and punched one in on quarterback Jacob Johnston’s seven-yard keeper.
The Spartans had to make some adjustments offensively, as they were dealing with numerous injuries to key running threats, but other players stepped into those roles. Josh Mateo tied the game, 8-8, with 2:51 left in the first quarter on a 55-yard run on the third play of the drive.
“Marlon Scott didn’t play today. George Freeman went out early,” Durgin said, “but we had kids who answered the bell. Nino Echevarria had a big gain. Mateo had a great run. That’s what we’re built on, a great team effort.”
Mashpee ended the quarter with a 13-yard touchdown run from Ford (conversion failed) to take a 14-8 lead. St. Mary’s again matched the Falcons, this time as quarterback Calvin Johnson (15 carries for 48 yards, 3-of-10 passing) hit Eni Falayi with a 22-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone. St. Mary’s conversion also failed.
Mashpee took the lead again late in the second as Johnston scored his second, this time on a 1-yard run. The third quarter was quiet as both teams came up with big defensive stops, but St. Mary’s knotted the game at 20-20 in the fourth as Johnson found James Brumfield for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
The Falcons relied heavily on Ford to get them down the field on the next drive, and he delivered, running the ball six times, including a 15-yard gain for the winning touchdown. St. Mary’s had 4:34 to try and make something happen, but the Falcons broke up passes on third and fourth down to force the Spartans to go three-and-out. Mashpee ran out the clock after driving down to St. Mary’s 1 to ice the win.
“I can’t say enough about St. Mary’s, that is a great team,” Mashpee coach Matt Triveri said. “Honestly (Johnson) is one of the fastest kids I’ve seen in a long time. That team is banged up, and that says a lot about who they are too.”
“Every single one of those kids played their hearts out, and it hurts because they work hard at it,” Durgin said. “Those kids played a hell of a football game, and gave everything they had against a great team.
“It’s amazing what our seniors did, coming back from a year ago,” Durgin added. “It’s hard to get this far. These kids stepped up, it was their turn, and they were one game away from going to another Super Bowl. On the whole, that senior class has had a great career at St. Mary’s.”
The Spartans will now have a quick turnaround as they prepare to take on rival Fenwick the night before Thanksgiving at home (6 p.m.). Mashpee will take on Blackstone Valley in the Division 7 Super Bowl either Friday or Saturday, Dec. 1 or 2.