ANDOVER, Mass. –- Steve DiCienzo stretched across the goal line to end the first overtime, and the game, as his Boston College High teammates stormed the field in celebration at Lovely Memorial Field. Only then, after a disappointing open to the season least week, could the visiting Eagles truly exhale.
“There’s not a better feeling than that. It was just awesome,” the senior fullback and Abington resident said of his game-winning score, a six-yard dive up the middle that gave the Eagles (1-1) a thrilling 16-10 overtime win over host Andover (1-1). “I couldn’t do it without the hogs up front, I just followed their butts and they got me in.
“It was awesome, though. We’ve been working so hard for this win. It’s great to come back after that tough loss.”
A week ago, the Eagles came into North Attleborough High with high aspirations, coming off a disappointing 2012 campaign. But for the second year in a row, they fell victim to the upset by the Red Rocketeers, a 217-yard night rushing by tailback Rob Harnais seemingly wasted.
If last week was a much-needed win, then tonight was simply a must-win. And for a while, it looked like the Eagles might fall to a similar fate after surrendering 10 straight points in the fourth quarter.
After Ryan Payne’s 30-yard field goal cut BC’s lead to 7-3 with 10:11 to go, the Warriors’ Brendan Slattery fell on an onside kick, wrestling his way into possession. Andover fumbled the ball away seven plays into its drive; but not to be outdone, BC gave them the ball right back just five plays later.
Looking for tight end Connor Walsh in the boundary, quarterback Sean Holleran was picked off at the BC 45 by Will Eikenberry. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior linebacker broke to the home bench and followed two kick-out blocks up the left sideline, diving over the pylon for the pick-six and a 10-7 lead with 4:35 to go. It marked the fifth turnover of the night for BC, and ninth combined for both sides.
After a favorable return, with an extra 15 yards tacked on from a penalty, the Eagles marched inside the red zone, aided In part by an 18-yard sweep from Harnais (16 carries, 75 yards), and set up Jack O’Brien for a 31-yard field goal to tie it at 10 with 2:34 to go.
Andover called three straight wide zones to Eikenberry, then stalled, then missed a 42-yard game-winning field goal attempt with no time left in regulation to force overtime.
In the overtime, Andover took the ball first and was immediately met with increased pressure, with quarterback Oliver Eberth intentionally grounding on fourth down to give BC the chance to win.
Three plays later, DiCienzo found paydirt. And it was sweet.
“We kinda shot ourselves in the foot last week, and it happened again this week,” said DiCienzo. “It was relieving getting this win. We definitely needed this one.”
Said head coach Joe Gaff, “You can’t take anything away from that Andover team, please. Their effort tonight, this was a great high school football game. We made some mental mistakes.”
Turnover Troubles: This wasn’t a clean game by any stretch, with the teams combining for nine turnovers, five from BC High. One would venture a guess that ball security will be a big emphasis in the coming weeks for the Eagles, who fumbled the ball away four times. On the flip side, Andover’s quarterbacks are going to have to work on scanning the field better, as they committed two interceptions.
However, credit has to go the other way as well. It’s no secret BC High head coach Joe Gaff likes to deploy a Cover 1 and challenge the opposition’s receivers mano a mano, but the Eagles also showed some nifty Cover 3 looks against trips formations. BC’s linebacking corps in particular did a good job maintaining their zone responsibilities, forcing bad throws.
Going the other way, not enough can be said about Eikenberry, a prep school transfer who was made an immediate impact in the Warriors’ program. Of the Eagles’ four fumbles, Eikenberry forced two of them, both with sound tackling fundamentals. At 210 pounds and with a long reach and a lacrosse-like skill set, expect him to continue being a defensive impact. Right now, he is arguably their most important defender.
Lockdown in the trenches: Andover took the ball first in overtime, from 10 yards out, with four chances to get into the end zone. When all was said and done, the Warriors only moved backwards, the final chance a fourth down from the 25 that ended in an intentional grounding penalty.
Credit defensive ends Darren Amado and Evan Burton for playing excellent containment responsibility, maintaining a depth that did not open up running lanes for Eberth, and then flushing him out of the pocket, eventually wrapping him up for losses.
“We widened our ends out a bit,” Gaff said of the overtime defensive stand. “We really made our defensive line very active today, with a lot of stunts. We didn’t just want to line up and give that offensive line they have...You know, just be able to pass block. We moved a lot today, I thought that helped our D-line a lot.”
Get Big: It will be interesting to watch how both BC High and Andover each integrate their big-bodied tight ends as the season progresses.
The trend right now with big-bodied tight ends is to flex them out on the perimeter and create mismatches on size and strength, a la the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. Walpole toyed with this strategy last year, splitting the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Chris Collins out wide to the sideline at times, and saw very favorable results.
Mansfield’s 6-foot-5 junior Brendan Hill may arguably be the best in state at this discipline right now. He is a tight end by definition, but in most games will play primarily in the slot or at split end. In last week’s upset of Dunbar (Md.), Hill led the team with eight catches for 109 yards and a score.
In Andover’s spread scheme, which operates primarily out of 2-by-2 and trips looks, there is an incredible mismatch developing. Six-foot-7, 220-pound sophomore Alex Marshall is already committed to the University of North Carolina for lacrosse, but has big-play capability in head coach E.J. Perry’s no-huddle offense just on size alone.
In the second quarter, Marshall hauled in a 28-yard pass on the run; he found himself targeted more in the second half, only to be over or under-thrown. With his long arms and good sense of leverage, Marshall also excelled at perimeter blocking against the Eagles.
BC High’s Connor Walsh, meanwhile, figures to be integrated more into the offense as the weeks progress. Lining up both tight and split out, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Milton resident was targeted six times and recorded three catches for 44 yards.
“Walshy, the kid worked his butt off all summer,” DiCienzo said. “Just to see him making plays is unreal. He deserves it. He worked his butt off. I work out with the kid, he ‘s unreal.”
BC HIGH 16, ANDOVER 10 (OT)
BCH 0 7 0 3 6 --- 16
AND 0 0 0 10 0 --- 10
B - Steve DiCienzo 6 run (Marco King kick) 5:56
A - Ryan Payne 30 field goal 10:11
A - Will Eikenberry 45 interception return (Payne kick) 4:46
B - Jack O'Brien 31 field goal 2:28
B - DiCienzo 6 run