WOBURN, Mass. -– For the first time in about three weeks, Rufus Rushins was delivering, not absorbing, the pain.
Back for the first time since dislocating his elbow three weeks ago in a Division 5 North first round matchup with rival St. Mary’s of Lynn, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior was back to his old self for undefeated Bishop Fenwick. With his aggressively physical north-south running style that has brutalized many a defender this fall, Rushins led an onslaught of 35 unanswered points as the Crusaders cruised past South champion Abington, 35-8, in the D5 Eastern Mass. final at James Connolly Stadium.
With the win, the Crusaders punch their ticket to the state championship on Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium.
“For Rufus being out the last two, three weeks, they didn’t miss a beat,” Fenwick head coach Dave Woods said. “They worked great on the mesh, great on the zone reads. Rufus has a little bit of rust early, but he rushed it off and had a great game.”
Said quarterback Nick Bona of Rushins’ efforts, “It definitely brings us momentum, and opens up the field for the rest of us. It works out pretty good.”
Coming into tonight’s contest, Rushins led the Crusaders (11-0) in rushing with 1,142 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 8.5 yards per carry. Tonight it was another workmanlike performance, carrying 21 times for 154 yards and two scores.
With their patented scheme using power personnel in spread-based looks, the Crusaders pounded the rock early and often between the tackles.
After the Green Wave (9-2) got on the scoreboard first with a 20-yard scoring strike from Brian Dwyer to Vincent Picardi, hitting the senior split end in stride on a deep out route, the Crusaders responded immediately to cut the lead to 8-6 late in the first quarter. With starting field positing at the Abington 48 thanks to a nice kickoff return, they needed just three plays to score, capping it with a 38-yard Rushins score on an inside veer. Rushins burst through to the second level, cut once and shed a few arm tackles towards paydirt.
The Crusaders failed to convert the two-point try, and came up short on its first two fourth-down conversions of the game. But on their third try, on their final drive of the first half, they were successful, with Bona keeping the ball on a zone read for a new set of downs. Four plays later, eligible lineman David Hurley lumbered in from five yards out, then switched to a skill number and caught the two-point pass rolling to the near pylon, for a 14-8 lead with 56 ticks to go before the half.
“At the time, I was saying, we’ve got three turnovers and we’re losing 8-6. That’s not good, we need to capitalize,” Woods said. “That score at the end of the half was huge. To get that scoring point at the halftime with the lead was really big.
“It was great for David [too]. He works hard on the offensive line, he works hard on defense, and to pound one in is nice.”
The defense sewed it up in the second half, holding the Green Wave to under 30 yards of offense over the final 22 minutes, led by Bona in the back at safety, as well as lineman Dustin McCauley, linebacker Kevin Hannon, and defensive backs Charlie Mastrellis, Eric Razney and Tommy Parsons.
“That was an unbelievable defense,” Woods said. “I thought [assistant coach Dave] Dugan had an unbelievable gameplan. These kids watched game film all week, they knew tendencies, they played hard. They got after it.”
Bona made it 21-8 late in the third quarter, capping a 12-play, 82-yard, six-minute drive with a five-yard option keeper. That was followed by Rushins’ second score, accounting for all 34 yards on a three-play drive after Abington failed to convert on fourth down in its own territory. Bona then closed out the scoring late with a 30-yard interception return, the Crusaders’ fourth pick of the night and fifth turnover of the game.
Fenwick will face the winner of tomorrow’s other state semifinal between West champion Hoosac Valley and Central champion Northbridge, on Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium.
“We knew they were gonna come right at us, they’re a hard, physical team,” Bona said. “And I think we out-physicaled them tonight.”
Easing back into it
Dislocating one’s elbow sounds like a painful injury, but Rushins has an admittedly high threshold. Asked to rate the daily pain on a scale of one to 10, he gave it a four.
“It feels good, it doesn’t really hurt so much,” he said. “I’m gonna go home, ice it, put a nice heating pad on it, and do some physical therapy.”
He later added, “I have a high tolerance for pain, so it wasn’t really that much. I just took some ibuprofen. You know, even when I woke up, all I could think about was, ‘When could I get back on the field?’ That was my goal.”
However, Rushins says he will be sitting out next Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day battle with Pingree, to get rested up for Dec. 7’s state championship. Rushins also excels as a defensive end, with some of the Division 1 schools showing interest for him at a position along the defensive line. Tonight he only went one way, and was unsure if he would play on the line the rest of the season.
“I think we’re gonna scrap the d-line rest of the year, but we’ll see how my elbow is doing,” he said. “Who knows, maybe I’ll play some defense.”