NATICK, Mass. –- Call it classic fog of war.
Jack Turner couldn’t really recall how the plays happened, what the calls were, or how the opportunities sprouted, as he grinned sheepishly to the cameras that suddenly descended on him. All he could do, really, was muster up a bewildered look. When you’re locked in, you’re feeling no pain.
Because heck, who else, if any, can lay claim in this state to coming up with five interceptions in a single game?
The senior came into tonight’s contest with Needham having never registered a single pick as a member of the Natick varsity, and having only won a starting job in the secondary just a few weeks ago. Yet tonight the unheralded, undersized defensive back came up with five of them, as the Red Hawks (8-0) rolled to an easy 32-14 victory over the Rockets (5-3).
Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli said Turner’s feat is unlike anything he’s ever seen in his time coaching at the high school level.
“Absolutely not, no I have not, five picks in one game is pretty incredible,” he said outside the locker room, where Turner was being given a rousing ovation and sung the team’s fight song.
Asked to explain what he saw out there, Turner was at a loss for words.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I was just playing my position, and I was just playing the ball, and they threw to me every time. I don’t know.”
He then chuckled, “Sorry, I’m really bad at interviews.”
Well then, here’s our best explanation for how such golden opportunities came about for the unsung Turner, who alternates defensively between weakside cornerback and free safety as well as long snapper on special teams. Athlete Nico Panepinto began the night under center for Needham, but was switched out after the first series in place of incumbent quarterback Ryan Charter, who typically excels at passing on the run.
“Coaches always say [to us] to not get beat deep, I just try to do that and play the ball,” Turner said.
When the Rockets called for a waggle play, Natick’s corners were instructed to roll up, and be willing to jump a route. That’s where at least two picks fell into Turner’s gloves. Other times, at safety, Turner simply took advantage of an underthrown or overthrown ball and either broke to the sideline or middle of the field.
“We were so scared of No. 10 [Needham running back Mike Panepinto], that we wanted to make sure we had enough guys in the box to slow him down,” Mortarelli said. “Play some umbrella coverage and keep everything in front of us, and tackle. Jack made some great breaks on the ball.
“[Jumping those routes], that’s just him being a good athlete, having great instincts, and being confident. Once he got the first one, he was kind of ball-hawking out there. It was fun to watch.”
Offensively, it was a familiar tune for the Red Hawks, as junior quarterback Troy Flutie accounted for all five touchdowns and 291 yards of offense.
Flutie called his own number on the first two scores, the first one a 21-yard scamper bulling over the middle of the field. On the second scoring drive, Flutie converted a fourth-down pass with a 19-yard skinny post to Justin Robinson, setting up his 10-yard bootleg touchdown to the near pylon.
By the time Needham mustered a scoring drive, a two-yard Mike Panepinto plunge set up by a terrific fade from Charter to Mike Elcock, the Red Hawks had already gone up 18-0. Flutie completed a 29-yard skinny post to favorite target Brian Dunlap for the sophomore’s 12th touchdown of the season, then finished out the scoring with a pass to Robinson and a third rushing score.
Costly victory: The Red Hawks received a scare in the first quarter when running back Nick Lee was lost for the game with an injury to his left leg. Lee, who came into the game second on the team in rushing (76 carries, 465 yards, 5 TD), went down after running of a nice 15-yard scamper up the middle on a power play, and had to be helped off the field by two teammates.
An official word on Lee, who was seen on crutches the rest of the game, won’t be known likely until Monday. But with a monster home matchup with No. 5 Walpole slated for Nov. 9 with the Bay State Herget division’s playoff berth on the line (and unless catastrophe strikes, both teams figure to head into the game 9-0), the Red Hawks can’t afford to miss Lee for an extended period of time.
Breaking them in: If there’s anything to take out of this game offensively, it’s that while Flutie and Dunlap grab the headlines, this offense can diversify when pressed.
Tonight was a good example, as Dunlap saw his share of double-coverage, which in turn opened up the field for the 6-foot-2 Robinson. From the slot, Robinson was able to stretch the secondary as well as pick up the first downs on short gains. He finished with four catches for 59 yards, giving him 20 catches and over 250 yards receiving on the year.
One catch in particular, Robinson’s TD reception, stands out in particular. On the play, Flutie was flushed out of the pocket and rolled to his left; from the opposite side of the field, Robinson broke off from his route and streaked across the middle of the end zone, where Flutie showed off his arm strength with a cross-body throw that hit Robinson 30 yards downfield perfectly in stride.
Mortarelli said that play was “100 percent freelancing”.
Said Flutie, “I always keep my eyes up when I’m rolling out. I saw him cut back, and his guy stayed [behind], so I hit him.”
Anchors aweigh: Perceived as a weakness headed into the season, line play has become a strength for Natick as the season has progressed. Tonight, the offensive line worked surgically at times, particularly on power plays out of the Hawks’ bread-and-butter zone read scheme that had junior guard Robby Beausoleil pulling, trapping or sealing the inside.
Beausoleil battled a few injuries to his calves and elbows, but never missed any time. The difference is noticeable now that he’s healthy, though.
“Once he got healthy, we’ve run behind him a little bit,” Mortarelli said. “Our other guys have stepped up, and their improvement has really been amazing.”
NATICK 32, NEEDHAM 14
NEE 0 7 0 7 --- 14
NAT 6 12 14 0 --- 32
Nat - Troy Flutie 21 run (kick failed) 3:45
Nat - Flutie 10 run (kick failed) 11:51
Nat - Brian Dunlap 29 pass from Flutie (pass failed) 6:07
Need - Mike Panepinto 2 run (Brendan Brady kick) :48
Nat - Justin Robinson 27 pass from Flutie (Sam Lenson kick) 6:25
Nat - Flutie 8 run (Lenson kick) 2:04
Need - Jack Walsh 12 pass from Dylan Murphy (Brady kick) 1:30