FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For a moment, Nick Antenucci felt as though he had let his team down. With his only carry of the game, the Pingree sophomore fullback gained three yards and lost a fumble, setting up Rivers for a scoring drive late in the second quarter that increased their lead to 21-6.
“When I fumbled, it was awful,” said Antenucci. “I felt horrible about it. We just had to battle back.”
Antenucci didn’t get another carry for the remainder of the game, but he redeemed himself. He returned a blocked Rivers field goal 82 yards for a touchdown with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give Pingree a victory in the NEPSAC Norm Walker Bowl at Gillette Stadium, 36-28.
Pingree (9-0) senior Kyle Jamerson blocked the 28-yard field goal attempt and then escorted Antenucci down the sideline. Antenucci broke a tackle at the Rivers six yard line before hitting pay dirt to complete the Highlanders’ second-half comeback.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Pingree coach Chris Powers. “You think all we’re trying to do is block the kick. You never know how the ball’s going to bounce.”
Pingree’s offense, which averaged just over 40 points per game coming into its matchup with Rivers, found its rhythm in the second thanks to its passing attack.
On the Highlanders’ first drive of the third quarter, senior quarterback Brendan Oliver (9-15, 176 yards; 9 carries, 58 yards) caught the Rivers (8-1) defense off guard when he found Jamerson for a quick eight-yard touchdown pass to cap a 60-yard drive and cut the lead to 21-12.
After a touchdown run by the Red Wings' Taariq Allen, Oliver went to the air again and answered with a 42-yard touchdown strike to William Walfield (three catches, 75 yards; six carries, 63 yards). A two-point conversion brought the Highlanders within one score of the Red Wings.
On what turned out to be Pingree’s last offensive drive of the game, Oliver found Jamerson (three catches, 87 yards) for 47 yards down the sideline to set up a one-yard Kenny Adinkra (three carries, 37 yards) touchdown run. Oliver’s two-point conversion toss to Antenucci tied the game at 28 with 6:08 remaining.
“We knew that we score points in bunches,” said Powers. “We’ve done it all year. There’s been several times we’ve scored 30 points in a quarter. We felt like we needed to tell [the players] to be confident we could get the points because they come in bunches for us.”
Rivers jumped on Pingree in the first half by forcing three turnovers. Before the Red Wings scored after recovering Antenucci’s fumble, they scored twice off of Oliver interceptions. On Oliver’s first pass of the game he was picked off by Red Wings defensive end Nicholas Lund, who returned the pick 39 yards for a touchdown.
On Pingree’s next series, and Oliver’s next pass attempt, he was intercepted by Rivers’ Carlin Haymon. Just over three minutes later, Rivers running back Ben Patrick scored from one yard out to make the score, 13-0.
Patrick (nine carries, 40 yards), who rushed for 1,817 yards this season, left the game at the end of the third quarter with a left hip injury and did not return. It was a big blow to the two-headed offensive attack that featured cousins Patrick and Allen. Allen was also not at 100 percent, as he played through a high ankle sprain suffered the week before.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” said Rivers coach Rich Fisher. “To do what they did, and for guys to play positions they haven’t even played and battle back — we still had a chance to win in the end.”
Despite his ankle injury, the Nebraska-bound Allen rushed for 142 yards on 28 carries. He rushed 21 times in the second half, and got Rivers down to the Pingree 10 yard line with time running out, but Benjamin Marcus’s field goal was blocked and Antenucci became the hero.
“We worked so hard,” said Antenucci. “To win, especially here (at Gillette Stadium), it’s just the best feeling.”
* Bill Belichick emerged from the depths of Gillette Stadium to catch the final moments of the fourth quarter. Belichick’s son, Stephen, attended Rivers and captained both the football and lacrosse teams his senior year. He is now a senior on the Rutgers lacrosse team.
* Rivers came up short in their bid for an undefeated season, but 2010 marked a significant turnaround for the Red Wings whose last winning season came in 1979 when they went 4-3.
PINGREE 36, RIVERS 28
PIN 6 0 6 24 --- 36
RIV 13 8 7 0 --- 28
R – Lund 39 interception return (Marcus kick)
R – Patrick 1 run (kick fail)
P – Jamerson 32 pass from Oliver (kick failed)
R – Robert Costa 6 run (Shaquor Sandiford run)
P – Jamerson 8 pass from Oliver (pass fail)
R – Allen 6 run (Marcus kick)
P – Walfield 42 pass from Oliver (Colin Rossano pass from Oliver)
P – Adinkra 1 run (Antenucci pass from Oliver)
P – Antenucci 82 blocked kick return (Walfield run)