ABINGTON, Mass. -- By now, Rockland's Brian Harrington is accustomed to the routine on what was supposed to be a routine run up the middle, an inside power designed for him lead block for 220-pound running back Mike Driscoll and let him do what he does best -- plow through defenders. But when somebody's helmet popped the ball loose for Abington, the 6-foot-2 senior instinctively bent over and scooped it up, marching 83 yards to paydirt down the right sideline, unscathed by Abington jerseys.
"Somebody dove at my legs, and I don't know what I did," Harrington smiled sheepishly. "I must have jumped or something, he just missed me. I saw open field in front of me, so just take off was my first instinct. Luckily, no one caught me and I put six on the board."
And just like that, it was a whole new ball game. The Bulldogs were held to minus-12 yards of offense on six plays in the first half, and faced a 12-0 deficit late in the third quarter at the time of the fumblerooski. But Harrington's pseudo scoop-and-score breathed new life back into the Bulldogs, who exploded for 235 yards of offense in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points over the final 15 minutes to down neighboring rival Abington, 21-12, snap the Green Wave's 34-game home win streak, and move to 7-0 and sole possession of first place in the South Shore League.
"Oh man, it just changed the whole game," said Driscoll, who also blocked a field goal to end the first half and plunged in for the game's final score with 1:42 left. "Brian scooped it up from me, he took it down the sideline, and luckily they touched it and we got to go (downfield). Just a hell of a play by Brian."
The reversal of fortune couldn't have come at a better time. Rockland was held to minus-12 yards of offense on just six plays in the first half, and couldn't shake loose the outside pressure from Abington (6-1), especially defensive end Ryan Southerland and linebacker Christian Barrett. When Barrett slammed quarterback D.J. Austin to the ground on an incomplete third-down pass on the Bulldogs' opening drive, the senior signal-caller limped off to the sidelines favoring his right shoulder.
When Austin returned on the next drive -- some nine minutes after a Green Wave scoring drive, set up with a 12-yard quick slant from Zach Littman to Pat Zadrosny, and capped by a three-yard John Lane plunge -- he was promptly dropped again, this time on a corner blitz from James Cunningham. Abington, behind Littman's darting short passes and elusive dashes up the middle from Lane and Dylan Pietrasik, put up 156 yards of offense and controlled the ball for almost all of the first half.
The halftime talk, you might say, was rousing ("They got on our case," Driscoll said).
"I'll tell you where it was decided," Rockland head coach Ken Owen said. "We go into the half, we're only down 6-0. The way we played in the first half, they stumped us in everything we did on offense. To go in only down 6-0 at halftime gave us a little lift in terms of reorganizing ourselves and getting ourselves squared away for the second half."
From there, the Bulldogs looked like a more disciplined defense. Their four-man front gave Littman less time to throw, and clogged the middle of the field. Following Harrington's momentous return, which made it 12-7 Abington at the time, the Bulldogs came up with another big stand to give them the ball with less than five minutes to go.
Rockland avoided a big scare when an incomplete pass that appeared to be thrown backwards, and was picked up by Green Wave defender, was whistled dead. Several plays later, junior Ricky Witt came in and threw his lone pass attempt of the night, but arguably the biggest. Witt found Tim Fitzgerald wide open in perfect stride in the right seam, and delivered a perfect strike that the senior marched in for a 52-yard score.
Abington fumbled the ball away on the first play of its next possession, pounced on by Devyn Flipp, and Driscoll added the finishing touches a minute later with a short dive across the goal line with less than two minutes left.
ROCKLAND 21, ABINGTON 12
R 0 0 7 14 --- 21
A 0 6 6 0 --- 12
A - John Lane 3 run (rush failed)
A - Lane 3 run (rush failed)
R - Brian Harrington 83 fumble recovery (Ricky Witt kick)
R - Tim Fitzgerald 52 pass from Witt (Jason Hall run)
R - Mike Driscoll 2 run (run failed)