BRIDGEWATER, Mass. –- Even the old ball coach, grand master of the verbal barricade as he may be, conceded that this one felt pretty good.
“I was very pleased,” said Bridgewater-Raynham head coach Dan Buron, following the Trojans’ 20-14 de-throning of host St. John’s Prep, the unanimous No. 1 team in the land. “It’s funny, on the bus ride up here, I’ve never seen a team so focused in my life. I didn’t know what to expect, but I think that opening drive set the tone.”
Indeed, the Trojans (1-0) sent a message early and often. Junior tailback Brandon Gallagher capped a 12-play, 79-yard, eight-minute game-opening drive with a three-yard leap over the top of the offensive line. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Preseason All-State selection accounted for 60 of the 79 yards on the drive.
Ninety seconds later, following a Prep (0-1) three-and-out and a shanked punt that gave B-R field position at the Eagles’ 46 yard line, the Trojans struck again. Two plays into the drive, junior Matt Clement found Ryan Martin on a quick out route to the right sideline, and the speedy senior did the rest for a 44-yard touchdown completion. It was the first career score for Clement, making his first varsity start.
“It was just a sprint out, and my boy Ryan Martin is unbelievable – kid can fly,” Clement said. “He got out, nice and open. It wasn’t necessarily me, I just got it out to him and he took care of the rest.”
The Trojans punched it in once more in the second quarter for a 20-0 halftime lead, with less than 20 seconds to go before break. After getting great field position once again, thanks to a kick catch interference call, B-R marched 59 yards in 11 plays and three minutes, punching it in on fourth and goal at the two with a Clement play action strike to Arcel Armstead at the near pylon.
Prep’s Johnathan Thomas, a Maryland commit and the state’s top overall prospect, got going in the second half, accouting for 102 of his 161 yards in the second half along with both scores. His second, a 24-yard toss out of a double-slot formation, cut the lead to 20-14 with 2:18 left.
The Trojans’ Connor Reagan pounced on the ensuing onside kick to stave off the Prep rally and run out the clock.
Entering his 21st season as the Trojans’ head coach, Buron called the win one of the biggest non-conference wins of his tenure.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I just told them this one of the best non-conference wins we’ve had…This is my 21st year, I’ll put it right up there with some of the best,” Buron said. “That’s a good football team, they’re gonna win a lot of games, and I’m proud of the kids. It was a great team effort.”
Asked to reflect where this win ranked in his career, Gallagher said “it means everything.”
“Coming in here and beating them, they’re literally the best team in the state, so I mean, if you beat them, it gives you a lot of confidence,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean anything. We have to come out next week, and the week after that.”
Creative coaching move: It won’t get talked about much, but some creative clock management from Buron early in the fourth quarter helped seal Prep’s fate.
Facing third and seven at the Prep 19 on their first drive of the fourth, Gallagher was dropped for a nine-yard loss, giving them fourth and 15 from the 28. A false start penalty on the next play pushed the ball back to the 33, out of field goal range and with diminutive odds of converting.
The clock winding again, Buron sent out his punt unit, but ordered them to remain huddled, taking a delay of game penalty, pushing them back to the 38 but putting them in better position to pin them deep on a punt. Monson went for a coffin corner, angling his punt to the right pylon, but it went out of bounds at the 19.
Still, a valuable two minutes had been eaten off the clock following Gallagher’s nine-yard loss. And considering the momentum Prep was building at the end –- because really, it’s only a matter of time before Thomas ignites -– that’s two minutes the Eagles would love to have back.
“I took the delay for two reasons,” Buron said. “Because the clock was going to start again, and then get five yards back to kick it. New kicker there, I thought he did a great job, Josh Monson, but at that time they didn’t have anybody back, so he probably should have just pooched it down the middle.
“We got just a bit inside the 20, I’d probably like to get a little bit deeper than that, but hey, it’s his first varsity game too. So again, yeah, at that point we’re trying to milk the clock.”
Establishing the run:
Behind an offensive line comprised of tackles Shawn Whitaker and Nick Whittemore, guards Cameron MacKinnon and Will Fuller, and center Evan Shockley, B-R’s run game dominated in between the tackles for stretches, outweighing the Prep defense at the point of attack and consistently pushing the pile for extra yards.
Gallagher has gotten noticeably faster since last season. He also packs plenty of punch in his 185-pound frame, lowering his shoulder and driving through arm tackles, spinning through others, even shaking a defender here or there with a lacrosse-like dodge move.
Operating primarily out of “22” (two back, two tight end) personnel, overloading to one side with a wing back, the Trojans got Gallagher going on a variety of counters, sweeps, traps and powers. Their most successful play might have been the “blast” play, riding the lead blocker through the gap between the guard and tackle.
“The line just fired out,” Gallagher said. “They were amazing. Anybody could have ran the ball today on our team, and I was just lucky enough to be that person.”
B-R’s affinity for the waggle play is well-known, and it’s at its most effective when the tailback is having a Gallagher-like day. His ability to sell run worked to perfection on B-R’s third and final touchdown. Gallagher faked a counter step to his left as Clement rolled right, freezing a few defenders and leaving a linebacker in a mismatch with Armstead, who broke to the near pylon for an easy catch.
“That does everything for us,” Clement said of Gallagher’s running. “They start to respect the run and them, boom, pass. Touchdown. That’s it.”
Said Prep head coach Jim O’Leary, “That’s their bread and butter. We know that, we’ve played them, I’ve seen them scouting for the other teams we’ve played against for 20 years. Didn’t surprise me with anything today. As much as you prepare for it, and your team runs it, it’s not the same as when they do it.”
Passing marks for newbies: Both teams were breaking in new quarterbacks today, with the junior Clement (3-for-8, 74 yards, 2 TD; 3 carries, 34 yards) opposing Prep senior Mike Geaslen, a Northeastern baseball commit who waited patiently behind Jack Sharrio the previous two seasons.
B-R quarterbacks typically excel when extending the pocket to the sideline, and this afternoon Clement dazzled with his feet as much as his arm at times throughout the day.
His most impressive throw on the run came on a broken play late in the third quarter, giving the Trojans a new set of downs after escaping pressure. Looking like he was about to be taken down amidst a scrum coming from the right, Clement slipped away and scrambled to his left, hitting Reagan deep down the left sideline for a 28-yard completion.
“It was supposed to be in the pocket, three-step drop,” Clement said. “My boy Connor Reagan did a great job breaking off the ball, just kept running. It was unbelievable. I thought I was done, but we got it.”
Asked about any first-game jitters, Clement smiled, “No sir, none at all”.
Buron was pleased with Clement’s first start under center.
“Quarterback was a big question mark for us [coming in],” Buron said. “He had a nice day today. I don’t know what his stats were, but I thought he made some nice poise plays. He grew up a lot today.”
For Geaslen, there were some early growing pains but O’Leary was pleased with the strides he made in the second half.
“What happens is we’re not a vertical team, and we need to work those underneath routes. It’s his first start as our quarterback, against a pretty good team, and we’re down – that puts a lot of pressure on him.
“That’s not what we wanted to happen, we wanted to stay in the game and then do what they do – run some play action, get them on the edge with throws to the outside. But [Geaslen] made some plays in the second half, he gained some confidence, especially that last drive.”
And one has to figure, it can only get better from herein. Prep has two terrific targets in the junior class, tight end Jake Burt and slot receiver Owen Rocket, to work with. Against B-R, Burt and Rocket often lined up on the same side of a formation, running some well-timed combination routes.
The two work well off each other. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Burt is a mismatch for nearly every defensive back he faces when split out wide, and he made several tight grabs in the seams. Off of Burt’s routes, which typically ran at about 10 to 15-yard depths, Rocket exploited the underneath zones with his speed.
NO. 10 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM 20, NO. 1 ST. JOHN’S PREP 14
B – Brandon Gallagher 3 run (Josh Monson kick) 4:53
B – Ryan Martin 44 pass from Matt Clement (Monson kick) 3:00
B – Arcel Armstead 2 pass from Clement (kick failed) :11
S – Johnathan Thomas 5 run (Josh Hilty kick) 8:15
S – Thomas 24 run (Hilty kick) 2:18