WORCESTER, Mass. -- A game that had the makings of a shootout quickly turned into a route for host Doherty, as Highlander quarterback Luke Brennan threw five touchdowns in a 54-27 win over Quabbin in the first round of the MIAA Division 4 Central playoffs.
While the final score wasn't indicative of a competitive game, the visiting Panthers and senior quarterback Dylan Kierman made the home crowd nervous early. Kierman, the Central Mass. leader for passing yards and touchdowns, opened the game by leading Quabbin on a 7 play, 84-yard drive that ended when he found classmate Nick Thyden for a 16-yard score.
"They were playing zero coverage (No high safeties), and we knew they were going to play zero coverage," Kierman said. “We also knew we would get a quick touchdown against them, because that’s what we do to zero coverage. But after that they started mixing things up, rotating and jamming, and really starting messing with my reads... They’re a great team, and I take my hat off to them.”
"(That first drive) they got to us," Doherty senior receiver and defensive back Alfred Adarkwah said. “We just had to come back and tighten up the coverage. We got a few coverage sacks and were able to force him out of the pocket. We started to just play as one, because on defense, it’s 11 hats to the ball.”
Adarkwah would also have a hand in Doherty's great offensive day. The 6-foot-4 receiver has been unstoppable in the red zone, and on Doherty's first drive, he hauled in a 12-yard fade route for a touchdown from Brennan. On Quabbin's next drive, Doherty senior Tyler Kmon came on the blitz and sacked Kierman for an 11-yard loss.
After the Panther punt, junior running back Jahkari Carpenter quickly ripped off a 38-yard run, before Kmon punched it in from 14 yards out.
Kierman would again drive the Panthers deep into Doherty territory, but four straight incompletions ended their next drive. Two plays later, Brennan found Adarkwah deep down the left side for a 74-yard touchdown to put the Highlanders up 21-7.
But Quabbin wouldn't fade away quite yet. Facing fourth and 15, Kierman found classmate Justin Coppolino for 24 yards, then hit Thyden for a 19 yard score. But just before the half, the Highlanders would begin a run that would put the game away.
Two minutes before intermission, star receiver Isaac Yiadom lined up in the Wildcat and took it himself for a 20-yard rushing touchdown to give Doherty a 28-14 halftime lead. Only five plays into the second half, Brennan found Adarkwah for the third time, this one an 11-yard score on a hard out route.
A sack from Doherty senior Peter Franco led to a Quabbin four-and-out, and Brennan struck again moments later, this time to junior Javon Watkins from 18 yards out. Finally, Brennan's day ended after the next Doherty drive, when he evaded the rush, sprinted right, then fired a 49-yard bomb downfield to senior Mitch Celaj for his fifth touchdown of the game.
"I’m a big believer in giving respect where respect is due," Kierman said of Brennan. “He definitely deserves all the respect he’s going to get after a game like tonight. I’ve always thought he was a really great quarterback, one of the best in Central Mass.”
Next up for Doherty is a match up with undefeated Hudson, a team that will present many different challenges than Quabbin. While the Panthers' spread passing game is difficult to prepare for, Doherty's team speed on defense made it well equipped to handle Quabbin's style. The Hawks, meanwhile, are a power running, ball control type of offense.
It will be yet another challenge in Division 4 Central for the Highlanders, but they're not going to complicate things.
"We’re good, but to get to the Super Bowl, we have to be great," Adarkwah said. “We just have to work as a unit in practice... We have to just keep the media (And outside expectations) out of our heads, because if we don’t play well, the media won’t be here.”