- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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NATICK, Mass. – With a crucial Bay State Herget division game against No. 5 Walpole on Friday and coming off last week’s upset loss to Wellesley, No. 21 Natick was again confronted with a question of defense.
Yes, the Redhawks’ own defense hadn’t put forward their finest effort against the Raiders six days earlier, but the looming question headed into Friday’s matchup was whether anybody – including Natick’s potent passing attack – could score against a downright dominant Rebels defense. Walpole hadn’t allowed a single point in six weeks entering.
However, Natick quarterback Troy Flutie was again able to make plays with his arm and his legs, accounting for all three Redhawks touchdowns in a 21-14 victory over the Rebels. Sophomore wide receiver Brian Dunlap, despite being met with blanket coverage, was able to grab six catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. And that once maligned Natick defense ratcheted up the intensity to hold off Walpole’s comeback bid in the fourth quarter.
“We came into this game, we thought we were going to score,” Dunlap said. “We weren’t worried about their record and what had happened in the past with point or whatever. We just wanted to do our thing, play our game.”
Natick now controls its own destiny in the Herget, despite last week’s hiccup. The Redhawks (9-1, 8-1) can now clinch a playoff berth with a win in their Thanksgiving Day game against Framingham.
Walpole (9-1, 8-1) was stung by early miscues, which set up both of Natick’s first half-scores.
The Rebels scored on the game’s opening drive, marching 75 yards downfield on a 13-play drive culminating in Mike Rando’s 20-yard touchdown catch from Will Bolster. But a miscue on a Walpole punt erased the advantage by the time the first quarter was out. With 15 seconds to play in the first, a high snap on a Walpole punt gave Steve Thulin no time to kick the ball away. After a last-ditch attempt to throw the ball, Natick took over at the Rebels’ 25-yard line. One play later, Flutie connected with Dunlap for their first scoring play.
Natick again forced the Rebels into a mistake with 5:35 remaining in the second. A forced fumble created by Redhawks defensive tackle Matthew Palmer was recovered by defensive end Trenton Wright. The turnover immediately paid dividends for Natick with Flutie hitting Dunlap on a 40-yard hookup for a 14-7 lead.
The ultimate statement of will by the Redhawks offense came with their first possession of the second half.
“That was the game, that first drive, obviously, in the second half, was the game,” Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli said. “That’s what we wanted to do. It was great to see our offense do that.”
The Redhawks took the ball in the second half and Flutie zipped down the field in six plays. Flutie personally accounted for 62 yards on a 70-yard drive to open the third quarter, making a statement against the Rebels’ previously impervious defense. He finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run which proved to be the game-winner.
“All of our receivers had big games, Miguel [Rodriguez], Justin [Robinson], Andrew [Boynton], and Alex Hilger, coming off an injury,” Flutie said. “I thought we ran the ball pretty well. Nick [Lee] did a good job coming back from his injury, too.”
The Rebels fought back to make it a one-possession game with 4:24 to play on Bolster’s second touchdown pass of the game – a 26-yard fade to Brad Webber. The play, which came on fourth and 11, almost was not as Natick thought it had recovered a fumble (by Flutie) on the previous play, but instead the Bolster pass to Chris Collins was deemed incomplete.
Walpole would get another three cracks at the tying score late in the fourth, but its possessions ended in a punt, an interception and a turnover on downs in succession, as Natick’s defense answered the bell. Flutie capped the defensive performance with an interception, the Redhawks’ second of the game.
“Coach Mort [Mortarelli] did a great job with our defense after that loss to Wellesley,” Flutie said. “He knew we had an embarrassing afternoon there. He knew that he wasn’t to let that happen again. I think all of us worked really hard, we put the Wellesley loss on us. So we tried as hard as we could and we just made plays out there.”
SUREING UP, UP FRONT
Walpole was able to find success in the running game, behind another big effort from junior Connor Moriarty (21 carries, 120 yards), but Natick’s defensive line was a strength. The group of Robby Beausoleil, Ross Brayman, Jack Lowell, Palmer and Wright were active in the backfield. They helped shut down Walpole’s passing attack, after being burnt by Chris Sarni and Wellesley last week, in addition to a strong night from Flutie (INT, 3 passes defended) and Mike Abbruzze.
“We wanted to keep everything in front of us and not give up a big play,” Mortarelli said. “Obviously, when [Rando] was playing, he’s pretty explosive, we didn’t want to see him take off on us. We made a couple adjustments in our defense, we rolled up our safeties.”
Walpole – 7 0 7 0 -- 14
Natick - 7 7 7 0 -- 21
W - Mike Rando 10-yard pass from Will Bolster (Colton Mitchell kick)
N - Brian Dunlap 25-yard pass from Troy Flutie (Sam Lenson kick)
N - Dunlap 40-yard pass from Flutie (Lenson kick)
N - Flutie 1-yard run (Lenson kick)
W - Brad Webber 26-yard pass from Bolster (Mitchell kick)