READING, Mass. -– The ending seemed like fiction, but for Cambridge senior Shaquille Anderson the pain was visceral. In the final 90 seconds, 23 points had been scored, and when the dust settled Reading had escaped with a 29-28 win.
As the handshake line dispersed Anderson turned left, helmet still on, towards the scoreboard. He just stared, seemingly trying to get the eight and the nine to flip places. Nothing.
He lifted his helmet onto his forehead, turned and walked towards his team's post-game huddle. His pads on; his mouthpiece still in. At the 40-yard line he took his helmet off and 30 yards later he slid out of his pads, his electric green compression vest illuminated under the stadium lights. His mouthpiece was still in.
The postgame stretch came and went followed by the talk from coach Ryan Saulnier. A huddle, a chant, and then it was over. Anderson still had his mouthpiece in.
Both teams had a taste of victory before Reading was able to fully enjoy it.
Senior quarterback Drew Belcher, after accounting for only 75 all-purpose yards in the first 38-plus minutes, put the Rockets on his back. Down 20-14, he accounted for all 69 of Reading's yards (two passing, 67 rushing) and capped the drive with a brilliant bootleg run on fourth down to put Reading up 21-20 with 1:29 to play.
Cambridge answered two plays later when Marcus Collins found Elijah Booker crossing over the middle and the junior scampered the rest of the way for a 76-yard score. Collins connected with Bryan Douyon on a two-point conversion to put the Falcons ahead 28-21.
On Reading's next offensive play, Belcher hit Rob DiLoreto down the Rockets' sideline for a 60-yard score. The madcap insanity reached its zenith when Reading coach John Fiore elected to go for two after showing a point after try before calling a timeout.
“We were going to fake it, but they almost blocked [one earlier] and they had a whole bunch of people where we were going to fake it to so we took the timeout,” Fiore said.
The Rockets went for two and Belcher threw the ball over a swarming wall of Falcons to Liam Kenneally, who went in for the win.
The Rockets ground out yards with the three-headed monster of Belcher, Kenneally, and D'Aundray Burcy. The trio combined for 315 yards over 42 touches and each scored a touchdown.
Kenneally led the way with 159 yards and four runs of 20 yards or more. Most of his yards came between the tackles in the teeth of the Cambridge defense.
“It's not about how hard you hit,” Kenneally said. “It's about how hard you can get hit and keep on moving.”
Belcher, by his own admission, had a weak first half but played up to the moment in the second half, especially in the final 11 minutes. He finished with 107 yards on the ground and 94 through the air.
“Coach made some great calls at the end of the game, and I had to come out and make a big play for my team,” Belcher said. “We always preach to play 44 minutes and we played 44 minutes tonight. We got a great win over a great team.”
Burcy had 49 yards and Reading's first touchdown.
Reading owned the ground, but Cambridge owned the sky. Collins utilized the cupboard full of receivers at his disposal to the tune of 355 passing yards and four touchdowns.
His top targets were Booker and Muna Anosike. Anosike caught three balls, including two touchdowns, for 99 yards. He said that the skill is result of work in the midweek.
“All of that was preparation,” Anosike said. “That's just hard work and this is where it shows.”
The elusive Booker reeled in five balls for 224 yards and touchdowns of 74 and 76 yards.
“You look at [Booker] and he's skinny as a rail, but he has such a work ethic,” Cambridge coach Ryan Saulnier said. “He's very much out of the Wes Welker mode, and once he catches the ball good luck tackling him. He's like a tap dancer.”
Anosike said that he wants the underclassmen to appreciate wearing the black & white as much as he did.
“These guys are my best friends; my brothers,” Anosike said. “Fifty years from now we're still going to be best friends; we're still going to be brothers. It was an amazing experience. I just hope that all the juniors and underclassmen can learn and do what they got to do to have that experience, because I had an amazing time."
The Falcon defense cramped Reading's style all night. The Dillon twins, John and Sean, had a lot to do with that. The brothers Dillon seemed to be involved in any play that made it into Cambridge's secondary.
Saulnier said that players like the Dillons set the tone for his team defensively.
“One of the things I think that gets lost among all the speed and skill position [players] are the tough, hard-nosed guys like the Dillon brothers,” Saulnier said. “They've set the edge for us in the 3-4 all year. When we first put them out there I was a bit concerned about their size, but they are so aggressive and play with such fierce competitiveness. They get to ball, play with leverage, and get their nose dirty.”