WALPOLE, Mass. -- Years from now, when Troy Flutie finally hangs up the cleats for good, they'll look back to nights like tonight when talking about that special blend of moxie that seems to run through family bloodlines, passed down through generations like an heirloom.
And in this thrilling 56-55 overtime win over archrival Walpole, a Bay State Herget-clinching victory that the Boston College commit called "the greatest game in my life", they'll start with a play they'll likely refer to simply as "Fourth and 22".
Down 49-42 with under three minutes to go, facing fourth and 22 from midfield after a sack and incompletion, the Redhawks (7-0) came out in an empty formation, with trips to the right. Flutie (12 carries, 191 yards, 3 TD; 18-of-31, 370 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT), facing pressure, danced around the pocket before scrambling to his left, as receiver Scott Warnock crossed the field from the right.
Warnock actually ran the wrong route, flattening his depth too much. But with Walpole deploying a zone defense to the trips side, and man-to-man to the other side -- but taken far off the line of scrimmage by those two receivers running deep downfield -- Warnock had plenty of real estate in front of him, with a Rebels (4-3) linebacker chasing from behind. Flutie dumped off a soft touch pass to Warnock on the underneath route, and the senior wideout scampered up the left sideline for a 29-yard gain.
"We ran the wrong route, he was supposed to run the flat, but he ran an in, and Scott did the rest," Flutie said. "He must have saw an opening, and just did it."
Said Walpole coach Barry Greener, "Great call on fourth and 22. They knew we were running a hybrid coverage...They got a total mismatch on us."
The next play, Flutie found Mike Abbruzzese down the middle of the field on a skinny post for a 21-yard touchdown completion, tying the game at 49-all and sending the game into overtime.
Natick took possession first, and on the very first play of the overtime period, Flutie pulled the ball on a zone read, running to the near pylon for a 10-yard touchdown run. On the next series, sophomore Steve Cuqua (44 carries, 308 yards, 6 TD) plunged in from five yards out on second down. On the two point conversion, however, he was stuffed in the backfield, sending the Natick side into a frenzy.
"He's very special, everybody knows that," Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli said of Flutie. "He always gives us a chance to score, and to score quick with his legs or his arm, and tonight was no exception. He just kept producing."
As soon as the game went to overtime, Greener said he had already made up his mind as to whether he would go for two or not (teams are allowed to go for one on the first overtime only).
"Number one, I didn't think we could stop Flutie from the 10 yard line, I think that's a little unrealistic," he said. "Four cracks, there's no way they're not gonna score. And, we were just getting so beat up, the few people we had left, we just had to put it on the line right there. They did a great job scoring. We ran a nice counter, came back with the same play, and they defended it well."
The two teams combined for 1,063 yards of offense, with Natick holding a 588-475 advantage in yardage. For the Redhawks, it's the third time they've gone over the 500-yard mark for offense, and the highest total they've ever achieved with Flutie under center. The Redhawks' previous high under Flutie was 576 in an October 2012 win over Weymouth.
Making a statement: Natick came into tonight's contest as the undisputed favorite, but it was Walpole that came out of the gates throwing haymakers.
The Rebels came out in some spread looks, using trips and double-slot formations, stretching the Natick defense horizontally with a combination of speed and jet sweeps for sophomore Lovevindjy Salvant (seven carries, 121 yards, TD), as well as inside zone reads with the fellow sophomore Cuqua.
Walpole went up 14-0 late in the first quarter when senior safety Myles Cofield jumped a route deep downfield to pick off Flutie, setting up a seven-play, 40-yard drive that was capped with a one-yard Cuqua plunge on second and goal, his second of six scores on the evening.
In one of the prettiest plays of the night, with four minutes left in the contest, Cuqua took a toss from quarterback Will Bolster to the left sideline, slipped inside two kick-out blocks and raced 73 yards to paydirt. It was his final touchdown of regulation, giving the Rebels their final lead of the night at 49-42.
Down the road, this could turn into one of the state's most dynamic thunder-and-lightning tailback tandems, with Salvant providing a shifty change of pace to the hard-charging Cuqua, who dished out some violent pops tonight on dives up the middle. But in the near future, the Rebels could benefit greatly from this kind of production, should injured senior running back Connor Moriarty (ankle) be ready for the first round of next week's MIAA Division 3 Southwest playoffs.
"Cuqua is kind of one of what I call our real good sophomores," Greener said. "Tremendous football player, had a big game against Foxborough first game of the year, but he was sharing it with our captain Connor Moriarty. But Connor has been out for a number of weeks so Cuqua, with the help of Lovevindjy Salvant, has had to do everything himself. And I mean, he's ready for the trauma unit right now, he's really beat up."
Mortarelli, while excited with the win, expressed disappointment with what was an otherwise flat start on both sides of the ball for Natick.
"This back and forth battle, it's what you expect. They're a great team, great coaching staff, great tradition. They came out ready to play, and we didn't get off the bus. We've gotta fix that. We were asleep the first quarter, on offense and defense."
NATICK 56, WALPOLE 55 (OT)
NAT 7 14 7 21 7 --- 56
WAL 14 7 21 7 6 --- 55
W - Steve Cuqua 2 run (Jack Lavanchy kick) 8:04
W - Cuqua 1 run (Lavanchy kick) 3:47
N - Mike Abbruzzese 8 pass from Troy Flutie (Ben Nottonson kick) :33
W - Will Bolster 1 run (Lavanchy kick) 5:06
N - Flutie 73 run (Nottonson kick) 4:14
N - Andrew Boynton 47 pass from Flutie (Nottonson kick) :35
W - Lovevindjy Salvant 55 run (Lavanchy kick) 10:26
W - Cuqua 6 run (kick failed) 7:38
N - Flutie 1 run (Nottonson kick) 5:01
W - Cuqua 4 run (Bolster run) 2:06
N - Boynton 46 pass from Flutie (Nottonson kick) 10:39
N - Alex Hilger 25 pass from Flutie (Nottonson kick) 8:29
W - Cuqua 73 run (Lavanchy kick) 4:06
N - Abbruzzese 21 pass from Flutie (Nottonson kick) 2:01
N - Flutie 10 run (Nottonson kick)
W - Cuqua 5 run (rush failed)