- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW BEDORD, Mass. – It’s strange to think that the seeds for New Bedford’s Big Three conference-clinching win, 21-7, over Durfee on Thanksgiving Day were sewn in a time when they were 1-3, in a game that they lost, and by a player that very well could have viewed his coach’s decision as a demotion.
Before the Whalers’ bout with Barnstable in Week 4, head coach Dennis Golden made a quarterback change. He moved senior captain Nate Lewis out from under center to wide receiver and, in his place, junior Myles Medeiros took the snaps.
Medeiros lost his first start to the Red Raiders, but something was different from then on.
“We started out 1-4 and we had a lot of doubters and a lot people who didn’t believe in us,” Lewis said. “But we just believed, believed, believed. When we were watching film, we knew we had a lot of talent on this team. We just got stronger as a team every single day going forward.”
The Whalers’ momentum grew by the week. They rattled off three straight wins before delivering a shocking upset of Brockton, the first time they’d beaten the Boxers since 1999. All that was left was for New Bedford was to follow through on its first Big Three title since 2001 in the centennial edition of the Thanksgiving rivalry.
It was fitting that Lewis and Medeiros were again the driving motion behind the Whalers' triumph over the Hilltoppers.
“Not many kids would have or could have handled it the way Nate [Lewis] did,” New Bedford head coach Dennis Golden said, “and this championship is a result of him doing that. If he didn’t do that, we were dead as a team.”
After Durfee (3-8, 0-2) opened scoring with Tresley Dupont’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:50 remaing in the first half, Lewis wasted little time getting it back.
Hilltoppers head coach Robb McCoy called for an angled squib on the ensuing kickoff. Lewis fielded the kick on a hop at the Whalers’ 28-yard line and gained the edge on Durfee’s coverage unit. With only one Durfee defender left to beat, Lewis hurdled over the lunging would-be tackler and sprinted the rest for a 72-yard return.
Although Durfee had controlled the ball for 14:30 in the first half, they were all square, 7-7, at half.
“I saw the kid going down, so I decided to go up and was lucky enough to score,” Lewis said. “That was a great feeling.”
Meanwhile, McCoy had a familiar sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Oh, man,” he said, letting a big long sigh in the process. “I couldn’t have walked out there and put the ball in a better spot. We just didn’t spread out enough [on coverage] and their kid made a great play.”
New Bedford (6-4, 2-0) looked to strike on its first possession of the second half, after forcing the Hilltoppers three-and-out. However, Jake Brown picked off a Medeiros pass in the end zone to stall the drive.
The Whalers broke the stalemate with 7:47 remaining on Izaiah Baretto’s 1-yard touchdown run, which was set up by a pair passes from Medeiros (11 of 18, 155 yards) to Lewis.
Their chemistry has now been well established.
“Honestly, we just became more of a team,” Medeiros said of the Whalers’ turnaround. “When we started winning, after the Barnstable game, when I had my first start, we started to bond. We became a real family and that’s what we stress. We come in and when we see people walking down the hall in school, we give each other a hug because we’re family. I love every single one of those kids.”
Phito Gondre added an insurance score on a 15-yard carry, marking his seventh straight game with a touchdown.
Durfee wouldn’t go quietly, however, as Keith Omosefunmi (22 carries, 122 yards) continued to pound the ball and McCoy pulled out some football favorites from yesteryear.
In addition to throwing in Wildcat wrinkles into the Hilltopper offense, McCoy started one fourth-quarter drive with three consecutive swinging gate plays, with Omosefunmi taking the snaps. There was also a Muddle Huddle thrown in.
“It’s one of those things,” McCoy said, “with the extra week of practice, you’re able to do more stuff like that.”
McCoy certainly went out with a bang, as it was reported after the game that he had informed the school of his resignation, making his indoctrination into the 119-year rivalry his final turn as well.
“It was awesome, especially with what was on the line this year. It was awesome. It was fun. I’m proud that I was able to be a part of it. I’m proud that I was able to be a part of the 100th anniversary game and I’m proud of the kids, I really am.”
New Bedford also endured the loss of offensive and defensive tackle Lance Burlingame to a meniscus injury suffered in the first quarter.
It was a just another setback that the Whalers had to overcome this season.
“I’m always going to lead this team that best I can,” Lewis said. “I never doubted this team and I know we could do it.”
The Whalers will face Catholic Conference champion St. John's Prep on Tuesday in the Division I playoffs.
Durfee0 7 0 0 -- 7
New Bedford0 7 0 14 -- 21
DurfeeTresley Dupont 3-yard run (Cory Burns kick)
New Bedford Nate Lewis 72-yard kickoff return (Justin St. Pierre kick)
New Bedford Izaiah Baretto 1-yard run (St. Pierre kick)
New Bedford Phito Gondre 15-yard run (St. Pierre kick)