BROCKTON, Mass. – The old adage in football is to be the hammer, not the nail.
In facing North sectional champion Bedford in Saturday’s Division 4 Eastern Mass. final at Marciano Stadium, Dennis-Yarmouth head coach Paul Funk knew his Dolphins had to be the aggressor, not the punching bag. In his postgame remarks, Funk acknowledged his team’s desire to establish a two-score lead. With the Buccaneers’ All-State-caliber running back Olan Abner looming large, it was important the Dolphins play from ahead.
Despite a slow start, D-Y had done just that – taking a two-score lead into the fourth quarter. And the Dolphins defense maintained its part of the bargain, shutting down three of Bedford’s second-half drives with fourth-down stops resulting in turnovers on downs. And, notwithstanding a little fourth-quarter trickeration from deep in Bedford’s playbook, it equated to D-Y’s 21-14 victory, pushing the Dolphins onward to their first championship game appearance since the 2011 Div. 2A Super Bowl.
“We’ve been a team all year that has to stay on schedule,” Bedford head coach Jack Belcher said. “A second-and-fifteen against a state semifinalist team with our team isn’t going to fly – I think we had two or three of those in the second half.”
D-Y (9-2) tightened up defensively in the second half, after allowing Abner to run for 109 yards in the first two quarters. Sixty of those yards came on Bedford’s opening drive along, which Abner (35 carries, 165 yards) capped himself with a 2-yard touchdown plunge.
The Dolphins had trouble getting untracked offensively, with successive three-and-outs to open the game. However, D-Y caught fire in the second quarter, embarking on a 76-yard touchdown drive, culminating in Cory Desimone’s 1-yard run with 8:53 remaining in the half. However, a failed point-after try kept D-Y a point behind.
After serving Bedford (8-2) its first three-and-out of the game, the Dolphins offense was at it again, capitalizing on good field position with a 56-yard drive capped by a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Spencer Tyler.
The Buccaneers followed with another three-and-out, allowing D-Y to establish its coveted two-score lead before the half was through. It came in the form of the game’s longest play from scrimmage with Tyler (9 of 16, 129 yards, TD; 10 carries, 55 yards) hitting Michael Dunn in stride on the seam for a 70-yard scoring play.
“We just kept running our offense,” Dunn said of D-Y’s early offensive woes. “We knew we had to stick to our game plan. Just because they hadn’t allowed a passing touchdown doesn’t mean we can’t throw.”
In fact, Dunn’s score was the first passing touchdown the Buccaneers had allowed all season. On a whole, Bedford’s defense hadn’t allowed more than the 14-point total put up by Pentucket in last week’s North sectional final (a 22-14 decision).
Unfortunately, for Bedford, it was precisely one score too many.
Emptying out the playbook: Down a couple scores and with time drawing thin, Belcher was forced to before more creative with his playbook, as the Bucs mounted a late comeback bid.
Bedford made it a one-possession game with 2:24 remaining on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Joe Zampell to Robert McDonald.
The score was set up on the previous play – a 26-yard completion to the D-Y 7. It was a daring double-pass. With Zampell rolling to his right, selling a bootleg run, he then pivoted and threw clear across the field to Daniel Fay, who’d leaked out of the backfield. Fay took a couple steps to his left before planting and putting a spiral downfield toward Tom Sands.
The Dolphins played the progression about as well as could be expected. But, despite double coverage with safety help over the top, Sands was still able to leap above the fray and come down with a momentum-shifting reception.
“A 30-yard sideways throw and a 40-yard throw downfield is a little shaky in a wind like this,” Belcher said of the play call and Saturday’s blustery conditions. “But I decided it was time to empty the basket there.”
The Bucs scored on the next play. However, Bedford’s ensuing onside kick chance was quickly scooped up.
D-Y then milked the clock dry, with a plotting drive, driven home by a 42-yard run on a sweep from Dunn (2 receptions, 71 yards, TD; 4 carries, 65 yards) on third and 1, which effectively sealed Bedford’s fate.
Adjusting on the fly: As some point, somewhere in the middle of the second quarter, D-Y ditched its plan to play a modified 3-4 front, in hopes of slowing down Abner, in favor of its more familiar base 4-3.
“They were getting angles on us, so when we did that, it freed up L.K. [Metz] and Chip Evangelista to be able to run to the ball carrier,” Funk said.
Bedford had run its stretch play to the left side, off of left tackle Ryan Clasby with great success in the first quarter – resulting in three first downs and gains great than 12 yards. That well soon ran dry, as the Dolphins mixed up its approach and began gaining a foothold on the outside contain.
Much of that credit is due to Evangelista and Metz, the linebackers whom Funk credits as the quarterbacks to his defense.
“[Evangelista] and L.K. [Metz] really run that defense,” Funk said. “I always joke with L.K. that Reggie Jackson said that he was the straw that stirred the drink. But, for us, L.K.’s our straw.”
Evangelista finished with three tackles for loss or no gain, including a key fourth-quarter sack. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound linebacker shot up the gap to haul down Zampell for a 5-yard sack on fourth and 10 with about seven minutes remaining. It was the third of Bedford’s forced turnovers on downs in the second half.
“We knew this was our year to step up and make something happen,” Evangelista said.
The Dolphins advance to play Central sectional champion Doherty for the Division 4 state title, Dec. 7, at Gillette Stadium.