At the end of the first half of last weekend’s game with Milton Academy, the senior dynamic duo of cousins Ben Patrick and Taariq Allen of the Rivers School pulled off the type of play that is usually reserved for sandlot football.
Junior quarterback Shaquor Sandiford hit Allen with a short pass in the flat, and Allen, a recent University of Nebraska verbal commit, flipped the ball to Patrick, who raced 56 yards to the end zone for a Red Wings touchdown on a perfectly-executed hook-and-lateral.
Patrick and Allen, who grew up just down Humboldt Avenue from each other in Roxbury, insist they never ran the play despite playing Pop Warner together with the Boston Raiders at White Stadium.
"During practice, coach wanted to put a trick play in," Allen said of Rivers second-year coach Rich Fisher. "He thought it would work, so he put it in that week. We never ran it before. That was the first time, kind of on the fly."
It had to come as no surprise that the cousin-to-cousin connection resulted in something positive. It always has. After Patrick rushed for 325 yards and a school-record six touchdowns, he and Allen have combined for 24 touchdowns on the season, with Patrick leading the way at 15 heading into this weekend’s game with St. Mark’s.
"We feed off of each other. If I make a big play, he’s going to want to make a big play. It’s kind of a competition," said Allen, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound wide receiver/safety. "We had a competition, but it’s kind of blown out of proportion now since he had that six-touchdown game. We had a touchdown competition. We were both averaging two touchdowns game until Milton. I’ve got to catch up.
"Just the energy level, we feed off each other," he added. "He’s my cousin, so I’ll protect him when he’s running the ball and he’s going to protect the quarterback when I get the ball."
"We both feed off each other’s energy," said the 5-foot-9, 180-pound running back/cornerback. "That’s one thing we’re big on. If he gets a big play, I’m going to get hyped. If I get a big play, he’s going to get hyped. Whether he gets the ball or I get the ball, we both like to block for each other. So we both just help each other out."
At first, it didn’t look like the two would be able to play together at the high school level. Patrick has been at Rivers his whole high school career, but Allen started off at Marblehead through the Metco program.
"I applied here going into my freshman year and I didn’t get in, so I went to Marblehead," Allen said. "When I got that second opportunity, I was like, ‘I definitely have to capitalize on it.’ I felt when I was at Marblehead I wasn’t getting a lot of looks (from colleges). So I came here to repeat my junior year and have an extra year of football and started getting recruited. So it was a big thing for me."
Patrick was the one who grabbed Fisher’s attention and had him take a look at his cousin.
"I told coach Fisher about him," Patrick said. "I told him I had a cousin that was pretty athletic and he’s tall and everything. He saw him when he came for this open gym, playing basketball, and coach Fisher was there and he saw him. And ever since then, he wanted him."
"Ben had brought Taariq to my attention and I saw him play basketball," Fisher said. "Without having seen him play football, you could just tell he’s athletically very gifted. He’s one of the kids we targeted, and fortunately he had a good interview process and was able to get in the school."
For Patrick, reuniting with his cousin on the gridiron was almost too good to be true.
"It was really exciting," he said. "I just saw it as another opportunity to play with each other again."
Once Allen got to Rivers, the college coaches saw the same size and athleticism that Fisher did, and it wasn’t long before schools like Nebraska, Wisconsin, UConn and Tulane offered him a full ride. Allen originally committed to UConn before making his choice to play the next four years in Lincoln this past week.
"He’s a tremendous competitor," said Fisher, who played at Colorado and won a national championship there before coaching in the college ranks at places like Oklahoma State, Colorado and Idaho. "When you play against Taariq you get four quarters of football. When I was recruiting, you wanted kids who can compete on both sides of the football."
"It’s almost like it’s not real," Allen said of getting the chance to play for one of the top programs in the country. "Coming from Marblehead and coming here, I didn’t even really know I was going to get D-I looks. I put in the effort, got my name out there in the combines. Like I said, Nebraska, that’s big-time football, and I never thought it would happen in a million years coming from Marblehead."
Holy Cross is the only school to offer Patrick at this point, although interest has been picking up so far this season "from every I-AA program on this side of the Mississippi, it seems like," according to Fisher.
"When I was younger, I always knew I was going to be a college athlete," Patrick said. "That was always my thing. I just always knew I was going to play sports somewhere. That’s all I knew, really, was sports. So me playing college football was one of my dreams."
"If Ben was two inches taller, he’d be getting the same notoriety as Taariq," Fisher said. "The eye test doesn’t measure the size of their heart."
Already, the tandem has helped put a stamp on the Rivers football history books. Since the school opened in 1915, Rivers has had just three winning seasons, the last one coming in 1979 at 4-3. This year, the Red Wings at 5-0 have already clinched at least that, and have their sights set on an unbeaten season and NEPSAC bowl berth.
"Those guys get a lot of the credit," Fisher said of the two cousins. "They’ve worked hard to get to where they’re at."
The two know, however, that the clock is ticking on their football careers together, that there won’t be many more hook-and-laterals in their future.
"We knew it was going to happen," Allen said. "Coming to Rivers to play another two years with each other, get those good years, solid years in. It’s time to be a grown man and move on. We’re never going to lose contact. But that lifestyle is about to start kicking in, both of us are 18, we’ll be graduating, moving to college, starting to mature, become a man. It was bound to happen."