BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. -- Bandaged brow and all, Matt Walsh stood unfazed as he greeted reporters following his Plymouth North Eagles' game with Barnstable. This was a typical night for the 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior, after all -- which is to say, based on recent performances, an unstoppable one.
Whether it was carrying the ball or lead blocking, Walsh punished the Red Raider defenders all night to the tune of 111 yards and two scores on 26 carries, giving the Eagles all the cushion they needed as they pounced on Barnstable, 33-18, last night at Massachusetts Maritime Academy's Clean Harbors Stadium.
"They were loading up on us in the box," said Walsh, who recently committed to Franklin Pierce College for baseball. "They were keying on our power game, and we still powered through them. It was a really nice job by the offensive line."
As for his own game?
"I just want to get the running backs in the end zone," he said, referring to his lead blocks. "I'll do whatever I can for the team."
All night, the Raiders struggled to keep the Eagles off the field, and dominated the clock with their Power-I set in the first half. North was 8 of 13 on third downs, and converted all four of its fourth down tries, thanks to well-executed kick-out and trap blocks from linemen Jeff Synan, Mike Cahill and Justin Maskell that sprung Walsh free. Walsh did the rest, pushing the pile on his own strength at the end of runs and even trucking a few guys.
It's the same method that has delivered North impressive wins over Bridgewater-Raynham, Marshfield and Falmouth in successive weeks following the loss last month to Aquinas Institute of Rochester, N.Y.
"They're a real physical team," Barnstable head coach Doug Crook said. "We knew they were going to come and pound us. Matt Walsh is a load. My defense is laden with sophomores and I'm proud of them, but this is a good tune-up for next weekend (against Bridgewater-Raynham)."
As for that last point, some might consider this a warm-up for both teams' league slate ahead of them. Friday the Raiders look to clinch the Old Colony League crown when they head to B-R, a program known for its suffocating offensive line play and power running have since the days of Doug Bessette and Marc Colombo in the late-90's. The Eagles head to South Yarmouth in two weeks to take on Dennis-Yarmouth -- which runs a more read-option oriented version of Barnstable's spread attack -- for what could potentially be all the marbles in the Atlantic Coast League.
"D-Y is pretty much like Barnstable, so it was good to get a feel for that tonight," Walsh said. "Hopefully it helps us out alot."
The Eagles dominated the clock with their power running game in the first half, putting together two monster scoring drives and moving the ball steadily behind Walsh, Zach Zaniboni and keepers from quarterback Cody Merritt. North marched 63 yards in 12 plays on its opening drive of the game, with Walsh plunging in from four yards out for the initial 7-0 lead.
They pushed the lead to 13-0 late in the second quarter after putting together another drive from good field position, marching 54 yards in 10 plays and punching it in with a one-yard Merritt keeper. Barnstable, after a dismal start, came out blazing in the third quarter, with junior quarterback D.J. Crook (273 yards passing, three touchdowns) hooking up with Jordan Henderson (12 catches, 204 yards, three touchdowns) for a 46-yard pass on fourth down, then punching it in five plays later with an eight-yard comeback to Henderson.
Each Crook touchdown pass to Henderson was responded immediately with more Plymouth pounding between the tackles and scores. Meanwhile, the defense showed its mettle in keeping the quick Barnstable strikes to a dull roar, picking off Crook twice in crucial situations.
So, the North defense did bend. Henderson burned the Eagles' secondary for catches of 48, 46, 33 and 23, all off short passes to the flats; running back Dennis Reddy (nine carries, 79 yards) kept them honest with draws up the middle that went for big gains.
But they did not break.
"(We had to stop) the big play. They can score so fast, they can do everything," North head coach Dwayne Follette said. "They have a great deep passing game, and we didn't give up any big plays as far as deep strikes. We couldn't figure out the crossing route on that empty set they run, but we adjusted and we played well. I was very happy with our defense. They've very dangerous, they average alot more than 18 points (per game)."
PLYMOUTH NORTH 33, BARNSTABLE 18
PLN 7 6 14 6 --- 33
BAR 0 0 12 6 --- 18
P - Matt Walsh 4 run (Vinny Tavernelli kick) 3:49
P - Cody Merritt 1 run (pass failed) 2:21
B - Jordan Henderson 8 pass from D.J. Crook (kick failed) 8:35
P - Walsh 6 run (Tavernelli kick) 5:31
B - Henderson 9 pass from Crook (pass failed) 4:22
P - Zach Zaniboni 48 run (Tavernelli kick) 3:26
B - Henderson 3 pass from Crook (pass failed) 4:00
P - Merritt 30 run (kick failed) 2:11