Defense anchors Natick in victory

NATICK, Mass. -- One week after the most disappointing defensive performance of its season, Natick made certain it wouldn’t be fooled twice in a row, beating No. 5 Walpole, 21-14, to gain Bay State Herget supremacy.

The No. 21 Redhawks were coming off a 42-34 loss to Wellesley, a game that many on the Natick sideline would admit was overlooked, mainly due to the excitement of players in leading up to the showdown with rival Walpole.

Walpole’s defense has been one of the state’s very best this season, especially considering that coming in, the Rebels hadn’t given up a point since their Sept. 28 game against Milton, a game they won 34-3. Even despite Natick quarterback Troy Flutie leading three scoring drives for the Red Hawks against Walpole’s stingy defense, Natick’s own defensive performance was the story, leading them to a win in a game where most considered them to be the underdog.

“Coming into this game we knew we had to shut them down defensively in order to pick up a win,” said linebacker Mike Dunlap. “We knew they were a little bit bigger than us, but we just tried to play as tough as we could on D.”

Play tough they did, forcing two fumbles and an interception. A key play early in the first quarter, pinning Walpole's punter at his own 25-yard line before he could even attempt the kick, may bave been the difference-maker early on because of the much-needed momentum swing.

Natick immediately took over possession deep into Walpole territory, and seconds later Flutie threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7, a score that proved to give the Red Hawks confidence throughout the game, even when at times it appeared things weren’t going their way.

“Our guys didn’t quit, they kept scratching and clawing, and [Walpole] got that [touchdown] in the second half that we were very upset about, we thought we had a turnover [on the previous play],” head coach Mark Mortarelli said. "We could have folded then, but we didn’t, we just kept playing. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

The surprising loss to Wellesley motivated Natick to come back this week and play a complete game, but senior Jack Lowell said being the underdog against Walpole provided even more motivation for the Red Hawks to come out and show that the Wellesley loss was an isolated incident.

“Very few people picked us to win this game, and that motivated us to come out and play even harder,” Lowell said.

Flutie, most well-known as Natick’s star quarterback and playmaker offensively, got in on the act in the second half when the Redhawks needed defensive stops. He stepped up with a broken up pass in the middle of the fourth quarter that looked as if it would be a sureshot big gain for Walpole, and then he intercepted a tipped pass on Walpole’s next possession.

“We really look to Troy to make plays, he’s a leader for us. He threw that interception late in the game but then he was right there on defense to hold [Walpole] back,” Lowell said.

Knocking off a previously undefeated team may have been exactly what Natick needed, repairing their confidence after the loss to Wellesley and proving that they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, thanks to their stellar defensive effort.

“I could tell our guys would be ready to play,” Mortarelli said, "Obviously you can’t predict a win or a loss, but I knew we’d be ready to play and they disappoint at all. Every single guy on the roster did something to help us win this game.”