EAST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Jack Malafronte might only stand 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, but he played like the biggest man on the field Friday night for the Abington football team in their South Shore League title clinching win over East Bridgewater.
The fire hydrant of a running back led the charge for the Green Wave, carrying the ball 12 times for a whopping 174 yards in the 22-16 win.
The Vikings managed to curtail the production of offensive lightning rods Babila Fonkem and Matt Kilmain, but Malafronte found the end zone three times for the unbeaten Green Wave (10-0, 7-0 SSL).
“It always starts with the offensive line, they open up the holes,” said Malafronte. “I just hit em fast and hit em hard.
"I think we have the most talented group of backs around. You really can’t game-plan for three running backs and quarterback who can throw, so teams have to pick their poison. You might shut down one or shutdown two, but someone is going to find those holes.”
And Hall-of-Fame coach Jim Kelliher couldn’t have been happier it was Malafronte, who is widely recognized as one of the best motivators he's had – this year or any.
“Jack [Malafronte] is without a doubt one of the best captain-leaders we’ve ever had here,” Kelliher said. “I’ve been here for 42 years, so I’ve seen a lot of guys go through. He’s without a doubt the best. He epitomizes being a captain leader. He certainly showed it tonight.”
He didn’t get his first carry until two minutes into the second quarter, but he made the most of it as he sprinted 61 yards and moved the Green Wave into East Bridgewater territory for the first time.
After a pass interference call on fourth down kept the drive alive, Malafronte finished it off with a 10-yard dive into the end zone with 5:25 remaining in the half. A halfback pass from Fonkem to Joe Buckley made it 8-0.
East Bridgewater suffered its third turnover-on-downs on the next drive, and Abington held the ball for the final two minutes of the first half. Malafronte extended the lead on third play from scrimmage after the break, racing 53 yards for a score. A Fonkem run on the two-point conversion made it 16-0.
Just when it seemed Abington might run away with this one, the Vikings (6-4, 4-2 SSL) put together an impressive nine-play drive that spanned nearly five minutes. Andrew Benson, who finished with 67 yards rushing and another 51 yards passing, scored from three yards out before adding a two-point conversion rush to make it 16-8.
EB forced a quick three-and-out, and took over at their own 24 following a punt.
This time it took 10 plays, but Benson once again plunged in from three yards out. He added another impressive two-point conversion score on a broken play, tying the game with 7:53 remaining.
The tie was short-lived, however, as Abington manufactured a 10-play drive of their own and Malafronte finished it from two yards out with 3:37 left. His rush attempt failed and the Green Wave led 22-16.
East Bridgewater marched down the field again, and an athletic 17-yard scramble by Benson set up a 1st-and-10 at the 11-yard line. Back-to-back false starts moved the Vikings back 10 yards though.
With pressure baring down on him, Benson threw a pass toward that end zone that Abington’s Mike Walsh came down with, ending the drive and comeback bid.
The fourth time EB failed to net points after reaching the end zone doomed them as it came with just 1:05 left on the clock.
“We just made too many mistakes and had too many breakdowns,” East Bridgewater head coach Shawn Tarpey said. “We’ve been talking about execution the last few weeks. Overall we played pretty well, but we didn’t get it done when we needed a big play.”
Fittingly, Malafronte cruised past the first down marker allowing the Green Wave to take a knee and clinch their first SSL crown since 2008.
While Malafronte led the way offensively, his younger brother, Sam, made sure it was family affair on both sides of the ball. He led the Green Wave with six tackles, who also five each from Fonkem and Steve Manning, as well as four from Joe Brady and Jon Aprile in the win.
LYNCH'S FIGHTING CHANCE
Doctors and coaches weren’t sure senior captain Kevin Lynch would be able to suit up again for the Vikings after breaking his arm in their Week 4 loss to Mashpee.
Still, Lynch – a linebacker and running back – planned to be back, and his return to the field during the Abington loss was the brightest spot of the day for East Bridgewater.
“I mentioned it to the team that he was gutsy when he got hurt,” Tarpey said. “He backed that up again tonight. He’s just such a special kid. Six weeks off, and for him to just jump in their like that, I couldn’t be prouder of a kid. What a performance by him.”
The performance included rushing for 130 yards on 20 carries and leading the Vikings on defense while registering a team-high seven tackles.
“He’s just such a good kid,” Tarpey said. “He works so hard across the board – he’s ranked fourth in his class, and was always in the weight room, I’m just so proud of what he did out there tonight.”