HOPKINTON, Mass. -- Holliston quarterback Dan Barone admitted, with a big smile on his face, to being a little tired following last night's Tri-Valley League Large showdown with Hopkinton.
He had good reason to be both tired and smiling. The 5-10, 170-pound senior was a workhorse for the Panthers, ripping off 217 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries as Holliston blanked the Hillers, 20-0, Friday night at David Hughes Stadium.
Both defenses really dug in and it took until nearly halftime for the game's first points to be scored. After a Hopkinton (6-1 overall, 1-1 TVL) punt set the Panthers (5-1, 2-0) up at the Hillers 48, Barone carried four times in six plays and ultimately scored from the 1 with 2:08 left in the half.
Late in third quarter, the Panthers needed just four plays to go 80 yards as Barone broke loose for a 60-yard touchdown run, taking a pitch, looking inside first, then cutting back to the outside to make it a 14-0 Panther lead with 54 seconds left in the frame.
"I just saw a cutback lane," Barone described. "I kind of ran up the right side and a seam opened up on the left so I kind of cut it back and had some great backside blocks and I was able to get free down the sideline and tried my best to get into the end zone."
Holliston was able to stall a Hillers drive when Charlie Moore recovered a fumble at his own 43. The normally fast-paced Panthers settled in for a 12-play march that took 6:28 off the clock, ending with a five-yard touchdown run by Max Athy that left just 2:28 on the game clock.
"He’s the heart and soul of our team," said Holliston coach Todd Kiley in praise of Barone. "We have a lot of good players but I think he’s the kid everyone looks to. When the going gets tough, he’s the guy we want with the ball in his hands. As well as Jake Frechette too. It’s a 1-2 punch, you could really pick either one of them."
POWER FOOTBALL FOR HOLLISTON?
Kiley noted early in the game that the Hopkinton defense was very focused on limiting breakaway chances for his speedy Panthers. Rather than play into it, Kiley opted to shift his offensive scheme from their regular spread to what he calls the 'WAR' set. Barone would shift from quarterback to wingback, with sophomore Steven Hennessy under center.
Out of this set, Holliston looked to pound the ball with Barone, Frechette (11-61 rushing), Athy (7-39, TD) and freshman Joe Bellomo (4-29). Hennessy would either make a short, inside pitch to one of the backs, or fake the pitch and send his runners through the middle with traps and inside handoffs.
"We’ve always been a team, we like to think at least, that we’re a team that takes what the defense gives us," Kiley explained. "We felt they were doing a nice job against our spread. They were mixing it up so we decided to go into what we call our 'WAR' set and pound the football."
"You could tell they were defending our edge," Kiley continued. "They wanted to shut down our speed and our perimeter play and we felt there were some seams in there. They still did a nice job defending it but we started getting 6-7 yards a pop because they were defending the perimeter so much, we felt like we could take advantage of off-tackle."
BEND BUT DON'T BREAK ON 'D'
The way both defenses started the game, it looked like the winner would be a matter of which team would be the first to finally break through with a big offensive play. Barrett Hanlon finished with a game high eight tackles and an interception for Hopkinton, while teammates Alex Hulme and James Goncalves (sack) each had seven.
The Hillers also came up with a huge goal-line stop on Holliston's opening drive of the fourth quarter. The Panthers led, 14-0, and drove from their own 31 down the Hopkinton 3, but Hulme led a host of defenders in a charge to stop Barone at the 1.
Holliston did it on the interior, led by linemen Moore and Jon Schofield with six tackles apiece. Frechette added five stops and an interception in his own end zone.
Additionally, the Panthers defense allowed the Hillers to get on their side of the field just four times in eight possessions. The first ended on Frechette's interception in the end zone; the second and third stalled at the 40 and 43 yard lines respectively; and the final bid ended on the Panthers 29 in the final seconds.
"I think that's our first shutout of the year and to get it against a team like this, Hopkinton’s a great team, is definitely great our defense," Barone said. "We played with a lot of heart. The coaches set a goal for us in that, if we tackled well in this game, they thought we were going to come out with a victory and I think that definitely showed tonight."
Added Kiley, "Our defense played well. They moved the ball on us but we kind of took on the bend-don’t-break. [Frechette's] interception was huge. That’s just a senior, a four-year starter for us, making a play when it counts. He’s a kid that’s a warrior. When the going gets tough, thats when he gets better too."
HILLERS MISSING THEIR STAR
Starting quarterback Mike Decina missed last night's showdown due to a bout with mononucleosis, although he was able to stand on the sidelines with his teammates. He expected to possibly miss the next two games. Junior Hank Rudden took over under center and finished with 97 yards on 11-of-25 passing.
Decina's absence was not why Hopkinton lost this game, but he was greatly missed for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the loss of his incredible athletic ability and experience simply cannot be overcome, especially in such a huge game such as this one. Second, the Hillers were forced to add new wrinkles to the gameplan to compensate, alternating from a Rudden-led spread offense to a 'Wildcat' scheme that featured Hulme running the ball (87 yards).
Kiley, an offensive guru who knows a thing or two about coaching great quarterbacks, had nothing but praise for Rudden afterward.
"You gotta give them credit, they battled tonight, he said. "That was a tough football team. They were down a couple of kids but they don’t quit. The backup QB came in and threw the ball nicely, had a lot of composure. That’s a well coached football team and we’re very happy to get out of here with a win."
HOLLISTON 20, HOPKINTON 0
Holliston (5-1) 0 7 7 6 - 20
Hopkinton (6-1) 0 0 0 0 - 0
HOLL - Dan Barone 1 run (Barone kick)
HOLL - Barone 60 run (Barone kick)
HOLL - Max Athy 5 run (kick failed)