St. Mary’s football advances to state championship game

St. Mary's Zach Barden (left) blocks for Jalen Echevarria (right) during Saturday's game. (Item Photo by Owen O'Rourke)

MEDFORD — A new coaching staff, new personnel and a tough regular season schedule were some of the challenges the St. Mary’s football team has faced this fall. None of them stopped the Spartans from getting to Gillette Stadium.

St. Mary’s defeated Cohasset, 22-11, in Saturday afternoon’s Division 7 state semifinal at Hormel Stadium. With the win, the Spartans advanced to the Division 7 state championship game (Super Bowl), which will be played at Gillette Stadium. They’ll clash against Blackstone Valley on Nov. 30 or Dec. 1 (TBA).

“This is special,” first-year St. Mary’s coach Sean Driscoll said. “It’s special for a lot of reasons. A lot of these kids didn’t play on the great team last year. They’re seniors this year and they really stepped it up. They’re taking that step to keep this tradition going. I couldn’t be more proud of this group.

“Anytime you’re coming into a new position you’re worried about getting people together and staying the course,” Driscoll continued. “I asked these guys and they did it.”

Defense was the name of the game for the Spartans through the first three quarters. St. Mary’s kept Cohasset out of the end zone until Skippers quarterback Matt Lund connected with Mark Mahoney for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 1:28 remaining in the game. By then, St. Mary’s was well ahead with a 22-3 lead.

The Spartans forced three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble, and limited Cohasset to three points in the first half.

“Our defensive coordinator, Tim Phelps, and my whole staff worked tirelessly this week,” Driscoll said. “I think the extra day helped us a little bit. We had some matchups that we liked, that a lot of teams struggled with in the games (Cohasset) played before) and our kids did a nice job.”

St. Mary’s quarterback Derek O’Leary didn’t throw the ball much but completed 3-of-3 pass attempts for 75 yards. Eni Falayi hauled in two catches for 50 yards and Jalen Echevarria caught a 25-yard pass.

O’Leary scored on a pair of keepers, both in the fourth quarter, to stretch an 8-3 lead into a 22-3 cushion. Echevarria put St. Mary’s on the scoreboard with a 5-yard sweep in the second quarter. Echevarria ran the ball 15 times for 61 yards and George Freeman added 50 yards on 10 carries.

A scoreless first quarter, both teams came up empty on their opening possessions. Falayi intercepted a pass on the last play of the quarter but the Spartans fumbled on their first play of the second period. The Skippers scored first on Clifford Ward’s 21-yard field goal with 5:10 left in the half. St. Mary’s took an 8-3 lead on Echevarria’s 5-yard rush (Echevarria conversion) with 14 seconds left. Mark Niboh’s interception ended the first half with St. Mary’s leading 8-3.

Clinging to their 8-3 edge, the Spartans were in need of breathing room. O’Leary, on 4th-and-long, found Echevarria for a 25-yard toss to put St. Mary’s in Cohasset territory in the fourth quarter.

O’Leary capped the drive with a 2-yard keeper (Freeman PAT) and the Spartans led 15-3 with 4:24 to play.

“On 4th-and-15 we had to take a shot with our best player,” Driscoll said. “Jalen made a play when it needed to be made.”

Cohasset turned the ball over on downs on its next possession and O’Leary added a 1-yard keeper (Freeman PAT), putting the game out of reach at 22-3. The Skippers scored on Lund’s 8-yard toss to Mahoney (conversion failed) but O’Leary recovered Cohasset’s onside kick attempt to ice the win.  

Although the Spartans advanced to the state championship game, there’s one more task at hand along the way. St. Mary’s will play Fenwick on Thanksgiving morning (10) at Donaldson Stadium for the CCL title.

“We have another championship game on Thanksgiving that everyone’s forgetting about,” Driscoll said. “It’s a quick turnaround but we’re going to be ready to go for that as well.”

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