Boston High School: Nick Lee

Quick-hit thoughts from Thanksgiving football

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
6:12
PM ET
1. The biggest thing that stood out to me from yesterday’s Natick-Framingham game was how efficient the Redhawks’ passing game remained despite limited touches by Brian Dunlap. The sophomore has an unheard-of 30 receiving touchdowns since his first varsity start last season, but for the first time in his career did not register a touchdown catch.

I posed this question to the Framingham defense in my pick Wednesday, and I’ll pose it again to Plymouth South -– how do you cover Brian Dunlap? But now, I’m wondering if bracketing or shading a safety to his side is even the best gameplan. The Natick coaching staff was pretty high on Alex Hilger before he missed most of the season with a broken collarbone, and yesterday we saw why. Athletically, he’s a terrific target who can stretch the field. Between Dunlap, Hilger and the recently-blooming Justin Robinson, it might be a case of "pick your poison".

Still, I think the key on Tuesday will be running back Nick Lee, who injured his ankle last month but looked solid yesterday. He told me yesterday his right ankle was “100 percent”, and anyone who watch Natick’s No. 9 win over Walpole knows that wasn’t the case.

***

2. You could make a pretty solid list of elite players sitting at home after Thanksgiving -– Xaverian’s Maurice Hurst Jr., Catholic Memorial’s Peter Ngobidi, Needham’s Mike Panepinto and Nantucket’s Terrel Correia come to mind. But the one I was really looking forward seeing was Amherst running back Kieran Presley, who ended his career yesterday with 175 rushing yards and two scores on just 10 carries in a 35-15 win over Northampton.

We profiled Presley after his ridiculous 359-yard performance in a Nov. 2 win over Chicopee, and you can argue he is playing his best ball right now. He finished with 1,009 yards on the season, but 684 of those yards have come in the last three weeks – including four scores of 56 yards or longer. Head coach David Thompson also says there is varying degrees of interest from a scattering of Division 1 FBS and FCS programs, including UConn, Albany, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and James Madison.

It looks like the Hurricanes finally got their zone-blocking scheme down midway through the season, but unfortunately they’ll be on the outside looking in. Just a hunch, Thompson has a good thing going forward with this program.

***

3. I said this on FOX 25 last night, and it bears mentioning again. For the most part, there isn’t an overwhelming favorite among any of the divisions in Eastern Mass. Out in Central Mass., Division 1 is wide open, and on paper Nashoba feels like the overwhelming favorite but this is a team that Doherty nearly upset earlier this season.

However, in Division 3 Central, it’s Auburn, Auburn, or Auburn. The Rockets are No. 9 in our statewide poll, and No. 1 in the Telegram & Gazette’s poll, for good reason. As a team, they’ve run for 2,863 yards and 44 touchdowns, with an average of 10 yards per carry, led by senior Tyler Desjardins (120 carries, 1,560 yards, 23 TD).

Much like USC’s student body right or Nebraska’s I-bone formation, there’s not a lot of trickeration to the domination – everybody knows what’s coming. The Rockets run primarily power sets with jumbo personnel, and have been blowing people off the ball all season. I’ve previously mused that in the past the Rockets have gotten by just on outweighing people at the point of attack (they average about 280 pounds across, after all), but this is a unit that seems to get more mobile every time out. All-State candidate Aaron Dyke is at the forefront of this, able to pull down and lead block on sweeps fluidly.

The rest of the field in Division 3 consists of Hudson, Tantasqua and Groton-Dunstable. To those three teams, I say good luck.

***

4. Sharon’s Dave Morse, Stoughton’s Greg Burke and Plymouth South’s Scott Fry are on many short lists for Coach of the Year, and deservedly so. But I think we should also consider Upper Cape’s Mike Hernon for any such nod. In just his second year at the helm, he has the Rams in the playoffs as Mayflower Small champs, with a 10-1 record. The Rams are one of the highest-scoring teams in Division 4A (28.1 points per game), and they have junior running back Jon Dumont to thank for that. He had an impressive start to the season (89 carries, 889 yards, 11 TD in his first five games), and is a hard north-south runner with 40 speed allegedly in the 4.5 range.

***

5. If Barnstable and Everett win out on Tuesday, then the Division 1A Super Bowl is by far the marquee game of the Gillette Stadium slate. Some of us -– myself included -– are probably wondering why that got the 3:30 p.m. slot instead of 6 p.m., which has been designated for Western Mass. Division 2. Especially considering the crowd for last year’s Western Mass. Super Bowl, an early-afternoon contest between Springfield Central and Longmeadow, was thoroughly a ghost town.

All of that considered, I might end up eating my words if Wahconah makes it. I had a conversation with noted Berkshire Eagle columnist Howard Herman the other day, and he assured me that if the Warriors make it to the Super Bowl, the town of Dalton “will shut down”. Hope he’s right.

Recap: No. 21 Natick 21, No. 5 Walpole 14

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
2:18
AM ET


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

First quarter
W - Mike Rando 10-yard pass from Will Bolster (Colton Mitchell kick)
N - Brian Dunlap 25-yard pass from Troy Flutie (Sam Lenson kick)

Second quarter
N - Dunlap 40-yard pass from Flutie (Lenson kick)

Third quarter
N - Flutie 1-yard run (Lenson kick)
W - Brad Webber 26-yard pass from Bolster (Mitchell kick)

ESPN Boston Week 6 football picks

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
2:49
AM ET
NO. 9 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL (4-1) AT NO. 16 LONGMEADOW (4-1)

The Skinny: This battle between the two top teams in Western Mass. should be must-see material. Central snapped Longmeadow's 52-game league win streak last October in thrilling fashion, 21-20, but took one on the chin to the Lancers in the rematch, the Division 1 West Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. Central will be without quarterback Cody Williams in this one, while 'Meadow has looked sharp with Frankie Elder moving back to his natural position of tailback.

Scott Barboza: Picking with tradition here. Longmeadow, 26-21.

Brendan Hall: Speed is the name of the game in this one, and the Eagles tout too much for Longmeadow to harness. But expect the Lancers to play ball control in this one. Central, 28-25.

NO. 1 BARNSTABLE (5-0) AT DARTMOUTH (2-3)

The Skinny: After an emotionally-charged upset of Everett on September 28, Barnstable suffered a hiccup last weekend, nearly falling upset to New Bedford before Tedaro France pulled them through. In a three-team Old Colony League, there can be no hiccups, and if the Red Raiders come out sloppy again, something tells us Dartmouth could throw a haymaker.

Barboza: I look for the Red Raider to get the vertical passing game going early and often. Barnstable, 31-17.

Hall: I'll never count out Dartmouth as long as Rick White is running the show over there. How does that sound? Barnstable, 21-14.

PINKERTON ACADEMY (N.H.) (5-1) AT NO. 8 BROCKTON (3-2)

The Skinny: We don't know what to think going into this one. Last season, the Boxers traveled north of the border and delivered a 21-14 win over heavily-favored Pinkerton, en route to a 5-6 season. This year, though, the Astros have a breakout campaign on their hands with junior running back Manny Latimore. It will also be interesting to see how the Boxers respond without Augie Roberts under center in this one, but Micah Morel has done an adequate job so far. Brockton has won seven of the last eight meetings headed into this one.

Barboza: Astros get thrown for a loop like George Jetson on the space treadmill. Brockton, 28-17.

Hall: I just can't get 2011's result out of my head, and that's not to be taken as a shot against the Astros' 2012 squad. It's just Brockton has had their number for some time, and always finds a way to win. Brockton, 17-10.

NO. 2 EVERETT (4-1) AT XAVERIAN (1-4)

The Skinny: One team (Everett) looked sloppy in a 51-30 win. The other (Xaverian) showed encouraging signs in a 20-16 loss. Something's got to give, and while picking Everett in this one sounds like a sure thing, one has to wonder if the Hawks are starting to turn the corner and figure this out at just the right time.

Barboza: BHall, duck and hide time? Xaverian, 34-31.

Hall: No, you may not have my mailing address. Xaverian, 13-10.

NO. 15 ST. JOHN'S OF SHREWSBURY (4-1) AT NO. 3 ST. JOHN'S PREP (4-1)

The Skinny: Few teams have been as strong on the ground so far as St. John's Prep, with its dynamic duo of senior Alex Moore and junior Jonathan Thomas, and the Eagles have begun to open the playbook the last few weeks. St. John's of Shrewsbury, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing loss to its rival just a half-mile down Route 140, Shrewsbury High. But not just any loss -- a 51-45 shootout loss. Can the Pioneers rebound for an upset of Prep, or will they fall victim to a strong run game again?

Barboza: There will be running holes to be had. Prep, 45-41.

Hall: If you can run on this Shrewsbury squad, you can do a lot of things, and Prep can certainly move the ball on the ground. But the Pioneers will make this interesting with its hyper uptempo pace. Prep, 38-35.

SHARON (5-0) AT NO. 11 KING PHILIP (5-0)

The Skinny: What’s more surprising: the fact that the Eagles are off to their first 5-0 start since 1998 or that they’re 9-4 in their last 13 games dating back to last season? Either way you slice it, Sharon isn’t to be trifled with anymore. On the other hand, KP’s fast start isn’t a surprise, but we haven’t really seen what the Warriors are capable of as they’re just getting started against their Hockomock League schedule. This should be a good measuring stick for both squads.

Barboza: Either way, somebody loses. How about that for a hot sports take? KP, 20-7.

Hall: Warriors will win out in this one, but how does the old Pink Floyd axiom go? Can't have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat. KP, 28-10.

NO. 17 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM (3-2) AT LA SALLE ACADEMY, R.I. (4-1)

The Skinny: The Rams’ lone loss of the season came against an MIAA foe (North Attleborough) in Week 1 and have been terrorizing the Ocean State ever since. An underrated Trojans’ secondary will have to endure against the big arm of La Salle quarterback Anthony Francis. After getting run over to the tune of 228 yards by St. John’s Prep’s Alex Moore, B-R’s defense will look to bounce back against another of New England’s top backs (Josh Morris) with a big day up front from defensive ends Kevin Johnston and Dan Noviello.

Barboza: I look for a closer game in this year’s meeting between the club, but the same result. B-R, 28-20.

Hall: After seeing the way North dominated La Salle, I'm confident in saying the Trojans can win the battle at the line of scrimmage. That will be the difference here. B-R, 20-7.

NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH (3-2) AT NO. 23 STOUGHTON (5-0)

The Skinny: The Red Rocketeers enter this week desperate to avoid falling to .500 and in need of some offensive spark. North has scrounged up just 13 points in back-to-back losses to Foxborough and Franklin and were shut out against the Warriors. Meanwhile, the Black Knights received a highlight offensive performance from Marcus Middleton in last week’s emotional 20-0 blanking of Foxborough, a game dedicated to fallen teammate David Wade.

Barboza: I truly think there’s something special brewing in Stoughton this year. Stoughton, 13-7.

Hall: Red Rocketeers really need a healthy Alex Jette, more than ever, to right this ship. Stoughton, 25-13.

NO. 12 NATICK (5-0) AT NO. 10 WEYMOUTH (5-0)

The Skinny: Our Game of the Week for Week 6 features two unbeaten squads vying for playoff spots in their respective divisions in the Bay State Conference. Weymouth’s offense has evolved through the weeks, with multi-dimensional athlete David Harrison getting snaps under center. The Red Hawks enter Friday’s action allowing an average of six points per game on defense, led by Mike Abbruzzese and Mike Dunlap. The Wildcat defense, led by senior captain Sean Murphy will hope to slow down a potent Natick passing attack, but running back Nick Lee is also a force.

Barboza: I think this game will mirror Weymouth’s earlier battle with Needham, in terms of complexion. It’ll be a different result. Natick, 34-28.

Hall: Wondering if we'll see a combined 700 yards of offense or more in this one. Weymouth, 40-34.

Scrimmage Slants: Leominster vs. Natick

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
7:32
PM ET
Troy FlutieBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comNatick's Troy Flutie connected with top target Brian Dunlap for two scores against Leominster.
LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- Thoughts and observations from this afternoon's scrimmage at Doyle Field between host No. 7 Leominster and No. 13 Natick:

Air Raid: In three series of varsity on varsity, each offense reached the end zone three times, all of them coming through the air, giving the scrimmage an almost Arena League feel at times. Five of the scores were of 45 yards or more; the other score, a 25-yard strike from Natick's Troy Flutie to Brian Dunlap, was preceded by a 45-yard bomb to Miguel Rodriguez, in which the receiver was wide open through broken coverage but had to stop and get beneath the underthrown ball.

Where to start? There are a few things to take out of this aerial assault.

First, it should be noted that five regular Natick starters were out to injury, including junior wideout Alex Hilger, and the Red Hawks showed some rust early as a result. They'll be going to a no-huddle, four-receiver look once again, using trips and double-slot formations designed to get their top playmakers in space and open up the zone read game with Flutie and returning 1,000-yard rusher Nick Lee. Making it all flow evenly is Dunlap, only a sophomore but already considered one of the state's best route-runners.

Dunlap scored twice for the Red Hawks, once on the aforementioned 25-yard strike to the near left pylon, and again on a 70-yard bubble screen. Although Flutie gave Dunlap a good lead on his throw, Natick's perimeter blocking wasn't crisp in setting up the screen -- but Dunlap blew by everyone anyways.

As a freshman last season, the 6-foot Dunlap caught 69 balls for 1,172 yards and 14 touchdowns, all best in the Bay State Conference. With plays like that, he could be in for another big season.

"He's just so precise on his routes," Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli said. "He seems to always make the right cuts. His work ethic is unbelievable. He steadily improves just because of how hard he works. He can't help but get better really."

At the other end, the connection between Leominster quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie and junior receiver Neil O'Connor will be worth paying attention to, as the pair clicked for two scores. The first came on a middle screen, in which O'Connor followed the screen up the right hashmark then cut back to the middle for a 58-yard scamper. On the second touchdown, O'Connor ran a post down the left seam, and took advantage after a cornerback crashed on a wheel route the other way for a 45-yard strike.

The Blue Devils present a more traditional offensive look, alternating between the I Formation and shotgun formations with three or four-receiver sets, but O'Connor will be a centerpiece of this look.

"We're working him at some receiver," Leominster head coach Dave Palazzi said. "They [Natick] had some breakdowns [in coverage], so he was wide open, but he had good run after the catch, and that's what we want out of him."

Growing Pains: Leominster graduated nine starters on defense, returning just O'Connor and junior linebacker Jason Valera from last year's Division 1 Super Bowl Champion squad. The pass coverage is still working out the kinks -- they gave up gains of 50, 65 and 70, two of them for scores -- but there were also some positives. On Natick's third play from scrimmage, junior James Gurley broke for the left sideline and jumped a downfield route for a diving interception. In Natick's next offensive series, O'Connor closed on a wide-open receiver and used his fingertips to break up a would-be touchdown strike over the deep middle.

On the offensive line, Leominster figures to average about 210 pounds across, lighter in comparison to some of the state's other top squads, and they were beaten at times in pass protection.

"We haven't gone over a lot of our pass schemes, as far as passes are concerned," Palazzi said. "So that stuff we'll go over more and more tomorrow and Friday. But you've got to block people. It was 'run for your life' last year for Garrett against Everett [in Week 1], it really was, and we can't have that. We've got to fix that."

Applying pressure: On the other side of that, Mortarelli was pleased with how his front seven set the edge defensively. Mike Dunlap and Justin Montgomery brought pressure from the outside linebacker spots, while defensive end Ross Braymon gave the Leominster's line a good run in the third series, beating the left tackle for a sack and a hurry in consecutive plays.

"We tackled better than we have, so I'm excited about that," Mortarelli said. "But still, the big plays, that's what sticks with me, is how we gave up those three big plays."

Speed is a virtue for No. 13 Natick

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
9:11
AM ET
Natick installed a fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense to its repertoire last season with quarterback Troy Flutie calling the shots.

The results -— 31.4 points per game and an 8-3 record —- turned out to be pretty good, and this season the Red Hawks are hoping that a playoff birth comes with the successes of the offensive production in year two.

“Last year was the first year we went with the no-huddle spread and we are putting in some new wrinkles (this year),” said Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli. “Now it’s kind of adding to it and tweaking to make sure we are utilizing our strengths and keeping teams off-balanced.”

Flutie’s lineage (he is the son of former Boston College great Darren) is no new story in the football-rich community of Natick, and his sophomore season did more than enough to make sure the production matched the namesake.

Flutie completed 62.4 percent of his throws and threw for 2,018 yards, with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback was also the most productive runner on the ground for the Red and Blue as he rushed for 1,100 yards with 11 scores. He overcame an ankle injury late in the season to throw for nearly 400 yards on Thanksgiving Day in a losing effort against Framningham, and Mortarelli is looking for a major contribution from his quarterback again this season.

“He’s got such a great mind for the game,” said Mortarelli. “We really put a lot on his shoulders. We let him make adjustments at the line of scrimmage and we give him a lot of packages with what to look for, and he makes the call on what play to run. He’s very good at it and he has the natural ability to get us into the play we want and he’s a dual threat.”

Flutie has the ability to make plays out of the pocket with his legs when the pocket breaks down, but Mortarelli has no issues harnessing his quarterback like so many coaches face when they have an athletic quarterback running the show.

The running weapon is just that, another weapon for other coaches to worry about.

“If he has to he certainly can, but Troy is a pocket passer,” said Mortarelli. “He is so accurate and he knows where to put the ball. He wants to throw it first. If he has to pull it and run it he will. But I think he will give defenses some nightmares when he does that.”

Of course Flutie can’t do everything alone, and he has two complimentary pieces on the outside to make up what looks to be one of the most dangerous, and complete, passing attacks in the Bay State Conference. Brian Dunlap and Alex Hilger are both threats on the outside and they make up part of the young offensive nucleus with Flutie.

Dunlap may have surprised many with his 69 catch, 1172-yard, 14-touchdown freshman campaign a year ago. But he's no longer sneaking up on anyone.

“He won’t surprise anybody that’s for sure,” said Mortarelli. “We are expecting him to be double covered and we have to move him around a little bit in different spots and keep people guessing to where he is going to be.

“He works unbelievably hard and he’s a great student. Every little thing we do in practice he does well...He doesn’t have to say much and the other kids respect how he works. He’s a gifted athlete, but he does everything that a coach can want.”

Hilger is a 6-foot, 2-inch wideout, and Nick Lee -- who rushed for the 1,035 yards with 10 scores last year -- adds a between-the-tackles caliber of runner out of the spread to keep opposing defenses honest.

The Red Hawks ripped off seven wins in a row before last season losses to Walpole, which was by a field goal in the final seconds of the game, and Framingham to ultimately miss a playoff spot. Mortarelli sees a hungry group, and the offense will be a huge key towards erasing those bad feelings of last year.

“Certainly that loss on Thanksgiving is sticking with us,” Mortarelli said. “Our seniors talk about it every practice and evertime we worke out. We have a great group of leaders, seniors, juniors and some sophomores. That should help us down the stretch.”

NATICK AT A GLANCE
2011: 8-3 (7-3 Bay State Herget)
Coach: Mark Mortarelli (Third season, 14-8)
Strengths: Returning skill players.
Weaknesses: Experience on offensive and defensive line.
Key Returnees: Troy Flutie, Jr. QB, 6-0, 160 lbs; Brian Dunlap, Soph. WR, 5-11, 175 lbs; Alex Hilger, Jr. WR, 6-2, 165 lbs; Nick Lee, Sr. RB, 5-10, 190 lbs.; Bobby Beausoleil, Sr. OT/DT, 6-0, 285 lbs.; Lee Grismer, Jr. OL/DL, 6-0, 240 lbs.; Mike Dunlap, Sr. LB, 6-0, 190 lbs.; Jack Lowell, Sr. LB, 5-10, 190 lbs.; Zack Hilger, Sr. LB, 5-11, 190 lbs.
Outlook: Looking around the Bay State Conference it seems as if Natick is one of the only teams who didn’t lose a major piece in the skill-position department. Troy Flutie will be Troy Flutie if he can stay healthy this year, and it’s going to be tough for teams to match up with Brian Dunlap on every snap. The big question comes on the line, according to head coach Mark Mortarelli. There isn’t much experience on both sides of the ball, but they do have two good building blocks in Bobby Beausoleil and Lee Grismer. The linebacking core is back with three senior captains in Mike Dunlap, Jack Lowell and Hilger. The offense will get most of the press, but if the defense can stay away from the big outputs by opponents then we could be looking at a Walpole-Natick showdown for league bragging rights until the end of the season.

Recap: Natick 49, No. 16 Needham 24

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
12:58
AM ET


NEEDHAM, Mass. -– Just one week after the No. 16 Needham Rockets scored one of their gutsiest wins of this season, they came back to Earth thanks to an electric Natick offensive display, the Red and Blue winning 49-24 to hand the Rockets their first loss of 2011.

“This is huge. That’s a great team,” said Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli. “Unfortunately, they’re under-manned, a couple of guys got hurt during this game, [and] of course the quarterback’s out, but anytime you beat Needham, they’re very well-coached and they’re very balanced. It’s just huge for us.”

Natick sophomore quarterback Troy Flutie, (11 of 14, 181 yards, 2 TD), set the tone early, as he connected with sophomore wide receiver Alex Hilger for the game's initial score, before Needham responded with a field goal by senior place kicker Andrew Murowchick.

The Rockets then surprised the Red and Blue on the ensuing kick-off with an onside kick, which set up sophomore quarterback Ryan Charter's nine-yard scoring strike to senior tailback Mike Vespa. Flutie and freshman Brian Dunlap, (12 carries, 69 yards 3 TD), responded with a score each, which gave Natick a 21-17 lead at the break.

In the second half, Vespa (11 carries, 78 yards) capped off a seven play series with a five-yard plunge. But it was all Natick the rest of the way, scoring 27 unanswered points. Flutie threw and ran for a score, while Dunlap and junior Nick Lee each sprinted by Needham’s defense for points.

“[This win] is great," Flutie said. "It gives us so much confidence heading into Wellesley, Walpole and Framingham. I feel great about those games, [and] I really feel like we can win those and go farther."

Line Opened the Run: After the Red and Blue celebrated their seventh win of the season, Flutie and Dunlap thanked their offensive line after the game, who provided the necessary holes to help the team combine for 255 yards on the ground.

“The running game was awesome," Flutie said. "Our o-line blocked awesome, our coaching as awesome. Coach [Brian] Maloney, Coach [Matt] Brenneman, all our o-line men did their jobs, and we had holes, it was great.”

Said Dunlap, “I know the offensive line was awesome. I’m so happy for those guys, they worked their butts off, and they practiced hard all week, and it’s tough being an o-line men, but they’re proud of what they do. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Even Mortarelli was quite pleased, saying, “They were just clicking. That was the best I’ve seen them play, and I was really proud of our offensive coaches.”

Needham’s Injuries: The Rockets offense, defense and special teams was nipped by the injury bug all evening, as senior running backs Ian Riley and Mike Vespa both left the game and did not return.

Riley, (three carries, 28 yards), who exited after the first quarter returned to the sidelines for the remainder of the contest with no pads or helmet, but instead, crutches. After the game concluded, he quickly muttered that he sprained his MCL and could most likely miss the rest of the season.

As for Vespa, he may have sustained a concussion on the team’s only touchdown of the second half, according to head coach Dave Duffy.

“We think he could be back in a couple of weeks, so we don’t know," Duffy said. "Riley hopefully [will] be back in a couple weeks too.”

Burnett returned to the gridiron: Two weeks after his quarterbacking career at Needham ended with a broken ankle against Milton, senior co-captain Drew Burnett returned to Memorial Field on Friday evening, and met Natick’s captains at midfield for the opening coin toss. Afterward, Burnett was forced to watch his team struggled against a Red and Blue offense that refused to be stopped.

“It’s tough to watch, especially with a game like this [one],” said Burnett after his team’s second loss of the season.

NATICK 49, NEEDHAM 24
NAT (7-1) 7 14 7 22 --- 49
NEE (7-1) 10 7 7 0 --- 24

First Quarter
Nat – Alex Hilger 32 pass from Troy Flutie (Sam Lenson kick)
Need – Andrew Murowchick, 35 field goal
Need – Mike Vespa 9 pass from Ryan Charter (Murowchick kick)

Second Quarter
Nat – Brian Dunlap 20 run (Lenson kick)
Need – Nico Panepinto 27 pass from Charter (Murowchick kick)
Nat – Flutie 14 run (Lenson kick)

Third Quarter
Need – Vespa 5 run (Murowhick kick)
Nat – Nick Lee 2 run (Lenson kick)

Fourth Quarter
Nat – Flutie 6 run (Dunlap run)
Nat – Dunlap 36 run (Lenson kick)
Nat – Dunlap 7 run (kick blocked)

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