FOXBOROUGH — When first-year St. Mary’s football coach Sean Driscoll stepped on the field for the first practice of the preseason back in August, he wasn’t sure what to expect from his new team. Driscoll knew he was coming into an athletic program that prides itself on carrying a winning tradition. One of his goals was to continue that.
The Spartans fell one win shy of bringing another state championship to Tremont Street, as they fell to Blackstone Valley, 18-0, in Saturday’s Division 7 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a season worth remembering.
“It was a very solid season,” Driscoll said. “Going into that transition year, being able to play a tough schedule like we did, I think that really helped us come together. I’m really proud of that.”
Along the way, multiple players stepped up into key roles for the Spartans and excelled. Jalen Echevarria swapped his basketball sneakers for cleats and ran for 1,200 yards with 16 rushing touchdowns this season — his first on the gridiron with St. Mary’s. George Freeman and Connor Donohue, who dealt with injuries early in the season, complemented Echevarria for a solid three-headed running attack that carried the offense. Derek O’Leary faced a tall order in replacing former starting quarterback Calvin Johnson, last year’s Item Player of the Year, but held his own with 365 passing yards and seven touchdown passes.
The offense couldn’t get much going Saturday (75 total yards) and Driscoll admitted it was frustrating. But he had no shame tipping his cap and offering credit to Blackstone Valley’s defense.
“They made a lot of adjustments up front toward our tendencies,” Driscoll said. “We tried to get away from that a little bit and their backside players did a great job of staying home and making plays. That’s what I noticed through the first three quarters or so.
“Their speed at the second level, the linebackers and defensive back level, was exceptional. They got to the ball and they made plays.”
Defensively, the Spartans held their ground Saturday and made a handful of key plays to keep them in the game. A goal line stance on the final play of the first half kept the Spartans in a two-score game, 12-0, when they went into the locker room. But the Spartans couldn’t make anything happen to create momentum in the second half.
“It was little things that did us in,” Driscoll said. “All year, we’ve been moving the ball pretty well. We got better and better each week. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t do it but hats off to them. They’re a good football team and their quarterback (Scott Mackay) hurt us running the football too.”
As Driscoll started to outline his expectations in his new role, the Spartans started to exceed them. Saturday’s loss did nothing to change that.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Driscoll said. “I’m proud of how we came together during the year. We had a big transition year being a new head coach and coming in with new guys. The kids really adapted and I’m proud of them for that.”
St. Mary’s will graduate 13 seniors from this year’s roster. They are Donohue, Echevarria, Freeman, Duy Tran, Mark Niboh, Brendan Laundry, Mathias Haley, Bobby Reynolds, Jack Maguire, DJ DiCenso, Kevin Foley, Zion Devis and Patrick Henry.
“The seniors really came together and really turned up the leadership role,” Driscoll said. “That was a really big asset for me as a new head coach in keeping things in line and keeping the tradition here that’s been going on for a long time now.”
Driscoll’s confident the underclassmen will learn from the experience and earn another trip to Gillette.
“It’s tough to swallow but we’ll bounce back,” Driscoll said. “We’ll regroup and we’ll be back some day.”