HYANNIS, Mass. -– Between the bye-week rust, looming Homecoming festitivies and a monster matchup with league rival Bridgewater-Raynham for the Old Colony League’s lone playoff berth on Nov. 2, this was an ideal formula for a trap game.
And until the final few minutes, it looked like the No. 1 team in all of Massachusetts was about to take one on the chin from upstart Billerica. The Indians (2-6) took a brief lead over Barnstable (7-0) in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders answered with two rushing scores and a stingy defensive stop to put down the clamps and escape with a 46-33 win.
“We survived. We showed some toughness at the end, no quit,” head coach Chris Whidden said. “But hopefully, this proves that we can’t just turn it on and off. Hopefully that ‘on’ switch stays on going forward.”
Billerica took its first and only lead of the afternoon with 8:38 to play in the game, on a 61-yard strike from quarterback Jordan Balarinho (23 of 35, 322 yards, 5 TD; 9 carries, 72 yards) to receiver Matt Clifford (10 catches, 156 yards, 3 TD). Clifford ran a seven-yard hitch down the left sideline and easily slipped off a high arm-tackle, then outran safety Hayden Murphy’s pursuit from the opposite side of the field en route to paydirt.
After sputtering in spurts all afternoon, the Red Raiders came to life in the final eight minutes of play. Quarterback Nick Peabody completed a nine-play, 75-yard drive by calling his own number on zone read, then weaving through traffic up the middle of the field and stretching over the goal line. He called his own number again on the two-point rush to make it 40-33.
On the ensuing Indians drive, the Raiders front seven made two crucial stuffs for a turnover on downs, after giving up nine yards on the first play of the drive. On third down, Ellis met Balarinho right at the line of scrimmage as the quarterback was looking for a dive up the middle. The next play, running back Brad Dewek was stopped cold in his tracks by Ellis immediately in the backfield.
With new field position at the Indians’ 40-yard line with 3:36 to go, the Raiders put the game out of reach with a two-play scoring drive, first a 27-yard speed sweep by receiver Tedaro France (5 catches, 127 yards, 2 TD) then a 16-yard zone play by Murphy (145 all-purpose yards, 2 TD) for the score and, following a missed point-after kick, a 46-33 advantage with 3:17 to go.
Coverage concerns: While Peabody finished with another solid day at the office (13-of-23, 270 yards, 3 TD; 9 carries, 88 yards, TD), the same cannot be said about the play on the other side of the ball. Whidden characterized the performance as “as poor as we’ve played all year”, and within that, the most glaring deficiency was the pass coverage.
The Raiders’ secondary seemed to align against the deep ball for most of the game, and the Indians took advantage, moving the ball swiftly up and down the field behind a short passing gameplan that utilized hitches and shallow crosses. Only four of Balarinho’s 23 completions went for more than 15 yards.
“People didn’t play their assignments,” Whidden said. “Our flat defenders weren’t necessarily getting to the spots they were supposed to be getting to early, and those seven-yard hitches were open. They found that, and they did a good job coaching-wise to exploit it.”
Ending on a positive: The pass rush was a bright spot for the Raiders’ defense, tallying three of their five sacks in the fourth quarter. Alternating between three and four-man fronts, the Raiders were led by Jason Freih, Bryan Hardy, Ryan Litchman, D.J. Goncalves and Ellis (two interceptions).
However, it wasn’t a flawless performance. While the Indians got minimal production from their tailbacks, Balarinho was consistently able to run free for first downs after getting flushed out of the pocket.
“We were getting pressure, but a lot of times we’d get beyond the quarterback, and then all of a sudden the rush lanes would get created,” Whidden said. “So we need to...you get to the quarterback, you stop and redirect, and then you get rid of those running lanes for them.
“They adjusted a little bit. We were there. It wasn’t like they were doing anything we haven’t seen all year, it was just when it got tough, it got a little Helter Skelter and took a little while for us to adjust, for whatever reason.”
Ellis doubles up: Ellis switched his jersey number from 7 to 77 this week to accommodate an offensive line group thinned by injury. Ellis will now periodically see time at guard in addition to his duties quarterbacking the defense at middle linebacker.
Ellis has also seen time at fullback in the Raiders’ offense, which could create an interesting predicament going forward.
“The rule used to be you could check in, but now you can’t,” Whidden said. “Now if he’s wearing 77 he can’t play fullback, so we might have to just put a couple of jerseys on the sideline.”
BARNSTABLE 46, BILLERICA 33
BILL (2-6) 6 12 8 7 --- 33
BARN (7-0) 13 7 6 19 --- 46
Barn – Hayden Murphy 1 run (Jason Freih kick) 8:50
Barn – Dylan Morris 19 pass from Nick Peabody (kick failed) 6:41
Bill – Michael Casey 8 pass from Jordan Balarinho (rush failed) 0:00
Barn – Tedaro France 70 pass from Peabody (Freih kick) 10:36
Bill – Matt Clifford 4 pass from Balarinho (kick blocked) 6:47
Bill – Clifford 7 pass from Balarinho (pass failed) 4:08
Barn – Murphy 16 run (kick failed) 6:07
Bill – Mark Duncan 46 pass from Balarinho (Alec Mattar pass from Balarinho) 5:08
Barn – France 8 pass from Peabody (kick failed) 9:52
Bill – Clifford 61 pass from Balarinho (Justin Beck kick) 8:48
Barn – Peabody 16 run (Peabody run) 5:20
Barn – Murphy 13 run (kick failed) 3:17