Boston High School: Gus Black

Recap: No. 7 Natick 42, Milton 19

October, 19, 2013
NATICK, Mass. -– As victories go, No. 7 Natick’s 42-19 win over Bay State Conference Herget Division opponent Milton at Memorial Field was anything but aesthetically pleasing.

Despite a bevy of penalties -– especially in the first half -– coupled with numerous potentially crippling lapses in judgment, the Redhawks still managed to make enough plays over 48 minutes to earn the win and lock up a postseason slot for when the new MIAA playoffs begin Nov. 1-2.

“Way too many,” said Natick coach Mark Mortarelli of his team’s first-half penalty total. “I don’t know how many, but it was way too many.

“We had to clean it up. We had holds, we had off-sides -– we had two or three off-sides –- illegal formations . . . everything you could do wrong, we did wrong. Luckily, we played very well in the second half.”

Senior quarterback Troy Flutie, who finished 12-of-24 for 241 yards along with four TDs and an interception, added, “We made a lot of mental mistakes out there, which hurt us big time on a couple drives.

“I think it’s just guys coming back and playing who haven’t been playing a lot like Alex [Hilger], who had a couple of those false starts. He just needs to get loose and get into the game. In the first half, I felt like we had to get into the game. We didn’t play that much; we didn’t get a lot of snaps. Once the second half hit we were on a roll.”

While Natick, which improved to 6-0 (4-0 Herget) secured a top-two spot in the Herget Division, enough to clinch a berth in the Division 2 South playoffs, the Redhawks did not make it easy on themselves.

Natick wasted little time finding the end zone first against Milton (3-3 overall, 3-1 Herget), as sophomore Jared Abbruzzese returned the game’s opening kick 82 yards for a 7-0 lead.

The Redhawks looked poised to take a commanding two-score lead after holding Milton on its first possession when Andrew Boynton returned the ensuing punt 85 yards –- zigzagging across the field, seemingly untouched –- for a touchdown.

However, a block in the back against the Redhawks negated the play and instead gave Natick the ball at its own 11-yard line.
Following a three-and-out and punt, Milton assumed possession on the Redhawks 38-yard line with 6:31 remaining in the first quarter. Approximately four minutes later, Milton senior Chula Loomis rumbled into the end zone from six yards out to knot the score at 7-7.

The Redhawks responded on their next possession. Flutie first found Alex Hilger (six catches, 128 yards, two TDs) on a 42-yard strike down the right sideline before hitting Tommy Ranucci for a 37-yard touchdown. Ben Nottonson – who stayed perfect on PATs this season, going 6-for-6 on the evening – split the uprights to give Natick a 14-7 lead.

Though Milton had a chance to tie the score when senior quarterback Liam Collins connected with Chavinskee Milcent for a 38-yard touchdown with 9:52 in the second quarter, the point-after attempt by Dara Kennedy sailed just wide.

The Redhawks then stretched their lead to 21-13 with 39 seconds left before the half as sophomore Chad Kidd (12 carries, 47 yards, TD) plunged in from 1-yard out.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Natick appeared poised to score again after Nick Olson picked off Collins at Milton’s own 35-yard line. But a Flutie fumble three plays later was returned 73 yards by Milton’s Anthony Smith, setting up a pivotal two-point conversion attempt.

“That’s me being too greedy, trying to make a big play,” Flutie admitted. “I can do that from time-to-time, but against good defenses like this, and for the more that we’re going to see in the playoffs, I’ve got to stop that. I’ve just got to make smart plays out there.”

Fortunately for Flutie and the Redhawks, the home team’s defensive unit came up with a big stop as Milton junior running back Jonathan Pierre attempted to run it in between the tackles.

“We were thinking run the whole time,” said Milton coach Jim Bowes. “We had faith in our big guys. We just blocked it the wrong way and let go of the ball down here, inside. They did a good job up front. We thought we’d be able to pound it and stuff it in.”

From there, Natick effectively sealed the win by scoring 21 straight points.

First, Flutie connected with Hilger for a 7-yard touchdown with 7:43 left in the third quarter. Less than two minutes later Flutie struck again. This time, he found Andrew Boynton for a 13-yard touchdown which was set up by an Olson fumble recovery. Then with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Flutie tossed his fourth touchdown, finding Hilger in back right corner of the end zone on a beautiful throw and catch from 23 yards out.

Still, it was Natick’s defense which had Mortarelli satisfied after the game.

“I think we stopped them on three different fourth downs and the two-point conversion,” he said. “Those were obviously huge.

“I thought our defense played well. We don’t want to give up 19 points to anybody, but I think we played well on defense. We tackled well. We stopped their counter which was part of our game plan. They got a couple [passes] behind us, which we’ll have to fix, but overall we pulled it together in the second half and we’ll take the win.”

In addition to interceptions by senior defensive back Colin Leddy and junior defensive back Nick Olson, who also added a fumble recovery, senior middle linebacker Gus Black was everywhere defensively.

“Gus Black was huge tonight,” said Mortarelli.

Back-to-Back in the Herget: With a postseason berth now secured, the Redhawks can focus on capturing a second consecutive Herget title. To do so, Natick will need to defeat host Walpole next Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.

“It’s huge,” said Flutie. “Walpole week. Rebel week. This is what you look forward to as a kid when you’re watching these games and you’re in middle school. You just can’t wait for it.”

However, if Walpole, which beat Norwood, 35-6, on Friday to improve to 4-2 (3-1 Herget), were to defeat Natick, the Rebels, and not the Redhawks, would be crowned Herget champs based on league tiebreaker rules.

Natick knows it will need its best effort, especially in light of its inconsistent performance versus Milton, if the Redhawks are to knock off Walpole and repeat.

“We have a lot of things to fix if we want to even give Walpole a game,” said Mortarelli.

A script revision for Flutie, No. 5 Natick

September, 1, 2013
Stop if you’ve read this script before.

A man named Flutie, under center, tries to will his team to victory during the final minute in an improbable circumstance. It was all there in Natick’s Division 2A Super Bowl versus Beverly at Gillette Stadium last year – that is, except for the fairytale ending.

After the Redhawks lost a classic, 28-21, with Beverly capping its first-ever perfect season after two Natick Hail Mary prayers went unanswered, Troy Flutie couldn’t bring himself to think about football for about a week. Then, he picked up the game film. By his count, he watched it five times from beginning to end, picking over the finer points, noting improvements to make for his senior year.

“It’s tough to look back at this play here, or that play there that might have turned the game out differently, but it is what it is,” the Boston College commit said. “You can only get better from it, that’s all you can do.”

Flutie realizes the path to get back to Gillette has become more difficult. Now in a loaded Division 2 South field in the MIAA’s new playoff scheme, the No. 5 Redhawks will have to muster another season full of magic to reach a championship game.

Again, Natick will rely upon its spread offense, operated by Flutie, to get them there. Aside from the ESPN Boston All-State quarterback, who threw for 3,135 yards and 35 touchdowns against eight interceptions last season, the Redhawks have another All-Stater in junior wide receiver Brian Dunlap. While Dunlap’s been held out of Natick’s most recent preseason scrimmages with a lower leg injury, there’s plenty of depth behind him. Flutie reports that senior Alex Hilger, who was held out of most of 2012 due to injury, has looked great early. He also expects big things from returnees Andrew Boynton and Justin Robinson.

And then, of course, there’s the X-factor to the Natick offense: Flutie’s feet. Adept at making throws on the run, Troy, like his uncle before him, almost seems more at ease when play breaks down around him.

“Coach Mort [Mark Mortarelli] knows how I play the game and he’s 100 percent behind me,” Flutie said of his penchant for scrambling out of the pocket. “That means a lot to me. Usually, it’s our offensive coordinator, Matt Brenneman, or my dad [Darren], who’s yelling at me to stay in the pocket.”

Flutie sees room for improvement in that aspect. It’s among the takeaways he gleaned from watching last year’s Super Bowl defeat.

While he’s most likely to follow his father’s path as a wide receiver at BC, his focus is making himself the best quarterback he can be. He wants to become a more patient passer, one who feels the rush and stands his ground.

“I have to work on that myself to become a better quarterback,” he added.

But no matter which Flutie it concerns, Plan B is never a bad option.

Coach: Mark Mortarelli (Fourth season, 25-10)
2012: 11-2, lost in Eastern Mass. Division 2A Super Bowl
Returning starters: 10 (six offensive, four defensive)
Key Returnees: Troy Flutie, Sr. QB; Brian Dunlap, Jr. WR; Alex Hilger, Sr. WR; Mike Abbruzzese, Sr. FS/WR; Justin Robinson, Sr. WR; Gus Black, Sr. RB/OLB; T.J. Collins Jr. LB.
Strengths: Returning skill players.
Weaknesses: Experience on offensive/defensive line and running back.

Outlook: While the Redhawks’ offense shouldn’t tail off much from 2012, the key position battle worth looking at is running back, where all-leaguer Nick Lee graduated. “I don’t think we could ever find another Nick Lee,” Flutie said. “He was like another quarterback back there for me. He’d help me a lot back there, checking out of plays. Now, I’m back there by myself.” A Kevin Faulk-kind of presence for Natick’s offense, Flutie lauded Lee’s blitz pick-up ability in the backfield as a key to his success. Look for sophomore Chad Kidd to pick up carries at running back in addition to senior two-way player Gus Black.

Natick’s secondary is deep and talented, with Mike Abbruzzese ready to break out after a solid junior year. Also, the linebacking corps might be a little light in game experience, but possesses play-making potential with a cast of Black, T.J. Collins, Justin Montgomery and Trenton Wright.
NATICK, Mass. – ESPN Boston preseason No. 5 Natick conducted a tri-scrimmage with Braintree and North Attleborough on Wednesday.

Here are some thoughts and observations from the three sides:

The Missing: The proceedings were in some ways marked by who wasn’t there, with each of the sides suiting up without some of their top players. Natick saw top receiver Brian Dunlap held out after he’d rolled an ankle during Saturday’s scrimmage. The injury bug also bit Braintree Saturday against Stoughton, when starting tight end and defensive end Derek Anson suffered a high ankle sprain on his final rep. Meanwhile, North Attleborough wasn’t without its own issues, as quarterback/half back Jack Blasť was limited by a hip ailment.

Full tilt: Even in Dunlap’s absence, the Redhawks looked to be near midseason form in the passing game. Troy Flutie dazzled with his trademark elusiveness in the pocket, scrambling around the backfield to make several first-down completions against Braintree’s top defensive unit. The offensive highlight of the afternoon came on Flutie’s 20-yard connection to Andrew Boynton, who made an over-the-shoulder catch on a perfect fade thrown to back right pylon in tight coverage.

Filling holes: Boynton’s score wasn’t his only contribution. He also lined up in the backfield in some two-back looks shown by the Redhawks. Natick is looking for a new feature back, following the graduation of Nick Lee. Head coach Mark Mortarelli also worked in senior Gus Black and sophomore Chad Kidd at running back on Wednesday.

It’s not the only positional battle Mortarelli was keeping an eye on. In addition to Black (also a starting OLB), he’s looking to junior T.J. Collins (5-10, 175 lbs.) to fill a hole, as well as senior Justin Montgomery, who also sat out the scrimmage because of an injury.

Working against North’s spread concepts and the double wing and Wing-T formations of Braintree, Mortarelli believes the exercise served as a good preparation for what’s to come.

“We wanted to make our kids uncomfortable,” Mortarelli said. “I wanted to see who could adjust, who could make the change playing against two different styles. I thought we did a good job overall, defensively, today.”

Step right up: North head coach Don Johnson also used Wednesday’s workout to glean a bit more information about his squad, which returns just a few starters on either side of the ball.

With Blasť limited, senior James Kummer had the majority of snaps with the first team offense at quarterback. He was working behind a new-look offensive line, which returns just one starter – senior captain Evan Sweeney, who slides over to left tackle.

The preseason snaps have been particularly important to the young line. Johnson anticipates a deep junior class to help patch the other holes on the line with Max Kroll working at right guard while Connor Ryan steps into right tackle. The battle at left guard is among the tightest in camp with Dan Kummer and Pat Munley vying for playing time.

Once the line has come together, Johnson thinks the Red Rocketeers have the elements to move the ball.

“I like what we have in the depth of our backfield and the versatility there,” Johnson said. “I think we’ll be able to show some balance and be able to throw.”

Keep your eye on … : Well, you can see him from about a mile away.

Standing 6-feet, 7-inches tall and 260 pounds, Braintree tackle Ryan Houlihan commands attention. The physical lineman made his presence felt Wednesday, particularly in the ground game. He’s not just a big frame. Also a basketball player, Houlihan has the feet to match, and he’s begun to gain the attention of college recruiters. A host of Division 2 schools have inquired about Houlihan, but Harvard has also expressed interest.

With a bruising offensive line in front of them, Connor Columbus and Mike Mahoney should find running room. Third-year Wamps head coach Brian Chamberlain is also looking for junior hoop standout Keyshaad Dixon to have an impact at receiver.

And, if all goes to plan, the Wamps – who haven’t experienced a winning season in their last nine – could break beyond their three-win total from a year ago.