Boston High School: Ricky Witt

Div. 3 Boys: Spellman 62, Rockland 60

March, 2, 2012
ROCKLAND, Mass. — Michael Downing made a promise to his teammates at halftime to be a factor in the final 16 minutes of the Div. 3 South quarter-finals after early foul trouble kept him on the bench in the first half.

The 6-foot senior guard was chomping at the bit to get back into action as the back-and-forth matchup between Cardinal Spellman and Rockland started to get real interesting in the fourth quarter. Downing returned in a big way defensively, as he came up with three steals in the fourth quarter, and the game-saving block at the buzzer to help the No. 5 Cardinals (19-5) down No. 4 Rockland, 62-60, in the final game ever in the “Dog Pound” at Joseph Cogan Memorial Gymnasium.

The exuberance of the moment was all over an emotional Downing’s face after the game, as the Cardinals will now move on to play Wareham in the Div. 3 South semifinals.

“I really felt I let my team down,” said Downing. “I felt that if I could get back in the game then I’m not going to let them down again. I knew that I had to help my team win this game. We are all brothers on this team and we had to do it for everybody.”

The Cardinals were in the midst of a 10-2 run when Downing came up with a big theft at center court and raced down for a lay-in to cut the deficit to 56-55. Downing picked off a Bulldogs (19-3) pass on the next possession and got the ball to Paul Preziosi, who was fouled and sent to the line.

Preziosi hit both of his free throws to give the Cardinals a one-point lead with four minutes remaining left in the ball game.

“We got a couple turnovers off their guards, which helped us out in that little bit of a run,” said Cardinals head coach Mike Perry. “I was happy with the way they played tonight.”

Downing kept his best defensive stand for last. Joey Glynn missed two free throws that would have sealed the game with 4.9 seconds remaining in the game. Ricky Witt grabbed the rebound and tried to get a halfcourt shot off that would win the game at the buzzer, but the lengthy Downing got his hand on is and swatted the ball away to secure the victory.

“When I tipped that ball and I knew that game was over I honestly wanted to cry,” said Downing.

Free Throws a Factor: Fred Damon didn’t want his season to end at the free throw line, but that’s exactly where it did. The Bulldogs were 10-of-26 from the line and missed several clutch free throws.

Tyler Gibson scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds on the night, and was a major reason why the Bulldogs were able to build an 11-point lead in the third quarter. However, he struggled with free throws all night, going 1-for-10 from the line and missing two that would have tied the game in the game’s final seconds.

“It’s a very simple game,” said Damon. “I told them that we didn’t want to end the season on missed free throws.”

End of an Era in Rockland: People showed up in packs to get into the “Dog Pound” for its last game, and on the walk into the gym people were leaving before the game with sad looks on their face as police and security had to cut off the crowd with bodies seemingly in every inch of the gymnasium.

The Cardinals seemed to weather the storm, but with the inbounds near the Bulldogs’ fan section, some Cardinals players could feel the the Bulldogs faithful doing their best Cameron Crazies impressions.

“It was really tough because the fans were right there,” said Glynn. “It was tough.”

'Nuts and Bolts', one year later

October, 22, 2011
ROCKLAND, Mass. -- Sean Reilly was climbing the ladder to the rooftop of the press box at Rockland Memorial Stadium, where he and lifelong pal Kevin Whalen were to commentate tonight's heated rivalry matchup for Abington Community Access. And as usual, he couldn't resist an opportunity for self-awareness.

"All the nuts and bolts are tightened, right?" he shouted across the press box as he ascended the ladder.

"Yeah, well, most of them are up there," joked the scoreboard operator, pointing to the rooftop.

After all, it was a year ago this week that their hometown Abington Green Wave saw their 39-game home win streak snap to their archrivals a few miles down Route 139, the visiting Rockland Bulldogs pulling out a 21-12 win in a battle of unbeatens. Overshadowing the Bulldogs' come-from-behind win, though, was a controversial backwards pass committed by Rockland that was ruled an incompletion after an Abington player returned it to the house.

Had the play been called correctly, the Green Wave would have put the nails in the coffin. Instead, then-backup quarterback Ricky Witt heaved a 50-yard touchdown bomb to lead the Bulldogs to victory.

Visibly frustrated at the incompletion call, Whalen didn't just go unconscious -- he went dissociative. The result was 56 seconds of pure gold:

2010_1022_Abington_vs_Rockland_Touchdown_Nullified from Norm Caseley on Vimeo.

"You grow up in a town you're proud of like Abington, and not that it doesn't really matter, it's not like I live for football, but I try to make it about the kids as much as possible," Whalen said. "And every now and then, you have one of those out-of-body experiences."

This is nothing new, Whalen notes. He brings up a 2005 Super Bowl game between the Green Wave and Archbishop Williams -- "one of the best games in football history" he boasts -- and laughs reminiscing about getting into a heated argument with the Bishops' coordinators during the live broadcast.

Even still, nobody could have predicted the aftermath that followed. Within days, the clip was getting replay all over the local Boston media sites. Within weeks, the clip had gone nationwide, with two million views on YouTube, regular drops on the sports radio airwaves, and spots on Comedy Central, NBC, Yahoo! Sports and ESPN's "SportsNation".

Put it this way: Celtics basketball has forever had "Havlicek stole the ball". Now, Massachusetts high school sports has "Nuts and bolts, we got screwed."

"It went around our town like no time. That was incredible," said senior captain Cejay Suarez. "It was the funniest thing I've ever heard. I laughed for days."

Said junior captain and linebacker Pat Dwyer, "It took on a life of its own. Watching our games on cable TV is awesome, it's like ESPN. I saw the clip online before it went on TV. Seeing myself on TV was ridiculous. It's bittersweet though, you know what I mean? It's weird that it picked up so much traction."

Heck, as recently as last Tuesday, Suarez and Dwyer found the clip while browsing Google during business class, and Suarez said "It fired me up right from the beginning.

"It got me fired up for practice that day," he said. "[And] I laughed for days. It was hilarious."

How did their families take it? Laughed Whalen, "They're used to it. They see me in front of the TV watching the Pats every Sunday, so..."

Within the Abington sphere, Reilly and Whalen are beloved. Classmates at Abington High who have been calling Green Wave games together off and on since 1988, they are beloved as much for the indiscriminate passion on two yard and 50-yard gains alike, as much as their penchant for breaking all the cardinal rules -- high-fives, cheering, and all in all blatant homerism that they make little effort to hide.

Both hold down day jobs -- Reilly is a lawyer in town, while Whalen is the Director of Administration and Finance with the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation. On Friday nights, Green Wave football is their animal; and for the players, there's nothing better.

"Most towns don't have two announcers that enjoy going to the games, calling the games [as much as they do]," Suarez said. "They get just as fired up as those kids do, and that's the best feeling. The best feeling is when you're on a Wednesday night, to go watch that game [on the local cable access channel], and they're sitting there in the freezing cold weather, down in Mashpee, and they're calling the game for you. There's nothing better."

But it almost came to an end. Last November, the day before Thanksgiving, Reilly and Whalen appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub to talk about the call, how they wouldn't change "anything we do", and the fame they'd received locally since that night. During the interview, they also revealed that the next day's game, the 100th installment of the Green Wave's Thanksgiving Day rivalry with Whitman-Hanson, would be their last.

Going out on top? Seriously? First Barry Sanders, now this?

That didn't last long.

"I talked to few kids," Whalen said. "A couple of kids really asked us to come back. I was working a couple of jobs last year, so that kinda changed my situation there a little. I think in the end it was, you know, coming back for the kids. We're kind of a tradition in Abington. A couple families, you know, were really asking us to come back. So, maybe in a couple of years."


So how did the fellas do in their encore, a last-second 14-10 Abington win?

Reilly and Whalen started off calmly -- "Maybe we'll do something stupid to get on your website," joked Reilly to an ESPNBoston reporter on the roof.

But like a high-priced sports car, Whalen went from 0 to 60 in no time, peeved by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Green Wave inside the red zone early in the second quarter.

"What a joke," Whalen grunted repeatedly, waving his arms for added effect.

Two plays later, Rockland's Tyler Eaton dove over the near left pylon from eight yards out to make it 10-0, and Whalen -- still peeved about the previous call -- began shouting "Where's the holding penalty? That's awful."

A few moments later, Reilly uttered, "It's the second quarter and Kevin's already mad. Turn up you television, sports fans, this could get interesting."

In the third quarter, Whalen goes old school. Abington quarterback Brandon Cawley heaves up a fade to the middle of the end zone, and receiver Joe Buckley out-jumps two defenders to come out with it, stirring Whalen to scream at the top of his lungs, "Touchdown, Manamooskegan!"

(For those keeping score at home, that's "land of many beavers", a nickname bestowed upon the town centuries ago by the Native Americans)

On the ensuing point-after pass to Buckley, another jump-ball that cut Rockland's lead to 10-8, Whalen again screams, "P.A.T., Manamooskegan!" and high-fives Reilly up high, then down low.

And like that, it was off to the races.

Good to know all that fame hasn't gotten to the guys' heads.

Recap: Abington 14, Rockland 10

October, 22, 2011

ROCKLAND, Mass. -– It was Abington’s chance to turn the nuts, bolts, and screws on Rockland on their home turf.

The Green Wave avenged last year's nationally recognized loss to the Bulldogs with a come-from-behind 14-10 road victory at Memorial Field as Abington quarterback Brandon Cawley scored on a one-yard, quarterback sneak with only 38 seconds left in regulation for the game-winning touchdown.

With the win, Abington stays in the hunt for the South Shore League title. But with last week’s loss to Mashpee, the Green Wave will need some help to make the postseason as the season winds down.

Abington played a first half to forget with three turnovers in six possessions with a botched kickoff return, a fumble at the line of scrimmage, and an interception from Cawley as Rockland (2-5; 0-4 South Shore) held a slim 10-0 lead at the break. The Green Wave managed 46 total yards on only 17 plays from scrimmage.

“It wasn’t like a six shooter but a bazooka that we were shooting at our foot and digging so many mistakes,” said Abington head coach Jim Kelliher. "It was the worse half blatantly I’ve seen from our football team since playing Hanover in the first game of the season but I said ‘we were only ten points behind so let’s just do our thing and we will be ok’”.

Cawley, the Green Wave’s junior signal caller, was stifled in the first half with a paltry 1-of-4 passing, including the pick, for only 11 yards but came up huge in the second half, especially big on the game-winning drive.

“It wasn’t so much the adjustments that we made (at halftime), we just talked and said ‘forget about the first half and relax’,” said Kelliher, who is in his 38th year at the helm and now sits at 211 wins dating back to 1974. “We knew we were going to get the ball in the second half and let’s see what we can do and play our brand of football and minimize mistakes.”

Abington (5-2; 3-1) fell just short in the second half’s opening drive after Cawley threw an incompletion to force a turnover on downs at the Bulldogs 17-yard line.

But after a Bulldogs’ three-and-out, Abington took advantage of some great field position and scored quickly on a six-play drive highlighted by sophomore Matt Kilmain’s running which produced 25 yards on only three carries. On second-and–six from the 16-yard line, Cawley slipped a sure-fire sack and rolled right to find Joe Buckley in the back of the end zone for the Green Wave's first touchdown. The Cawley-Buckley combination capped off the drive with a two-point conversion in a carbon copy, rollout right to the back of the end zone to cut the deficit to two, 10-8.

Rockland’s offense, which was moving the ball with ease through the air with quarterback Ricky Witt in the first half, was stymied for the final two quarters of play. Witt had 99 yards on 7-of-14 first-half passing, but could not jump start the offense in the second stanza and the Bulldogs were forced to punt again.

After forcing Rockland to punt on fourth-and-18 from their own 37-yard line, the 12-play, game-winning scoring drive started with 6:51 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. On second-and-eight from the 49-yard line, Babila Fonkem, who racked up 68 yards on 16 carries, ran off right tackle for a seven-yard gain which merited the chains to roll on the field but the Green Wave fell short.

On third-and-inches, Fonkem was stuffed for no gain by the Bulldogs defensive front, which played well in the trenches throughout the entire game. On fourth-and-inches and the game clock running under four minutes to play, Kelliher was certainly nervous.

“Everybody says ‘to win football games, you have to be able to run the ball’ and that’s the truth,” said Kelliher. “I was nervous there, but at least we had given ourselves a chance and that’s all we can want in the fourth quarter – keep yourself in the ballgame and give yourself a chance.”

Cawley called his own number and dove the length of a half of the pigskin to secure the first down and barely continue the drive.

“It was getting close and coach just said, ‘Put your head down and get as much yards as you can and it worked,” said Cawley.

Cawley’s number was called again on third-and-goal from the one and the junior quarterback delivered again with a dive up the middle for the game’s final score and a sigh of relief from the Abington faithful.

“I’ve been involved in this game for 50 years with Rockland, coaching, playing; my dad was one of the better players too. I love (the rivalry)," said Kelliher.

He added, “I don’t care who we have next week (Hull), we have four games left and they will all be tough. When it comes time to worry, don’t you worry, I’ll worry."

"Nuts and bolts, we got screwed": Almost a year-to-the-date last season with the first place in the South Shore League on the line, Abington scored a defensive touchdown on what appeared to be a backwards lateral pass from Rockland quarterback D.J. Austin only to have it ruled an incomplete pass. The nullified touchdown would have padded the Green Wave’s lead but Rockland went on to win the game, 21-12, with two more touchdowns after taking the defensive score off the board.

Local cable access announcers went ballistic and were featured on national sports websites throughout the country for their hilarious take on the action.

The home loss for Abington was their first since 2004, but Kelliher knows everyone looks back on the game –- and the play-by-play call -- for fun and laughs, despite the implications at the time.

“I like to call it 'The Game' now, we have fun with it no doubt," said Kelliher. “I hear 'nuts and bolts' all the time, we laugh about it, it was controversial at the time -- but you joke about it and back when I’m 75 or 80 years old I’ll laugh about it then too.”

ABI (5-2; 3-1) 0 - 0 - 8 - 6 - - 14
ROC (2-5; 0-4) 0 - 10 - 0 - 0 - - 10

Second Quarter
R - Ricky Witt 37 field goal
R - Tyler Eaton 8 run (Witt kick)

Third Quarter
A - Joe Buckley 16 pass from Brandon Cawley (Buckley pass from Cawley)

Fourth Quarter
A - Cawley 1 run (pass failed)

Rockland 'D' bends, breaks Abington

October, 23, 2010

ABINGTON, Mass. -- By now, Rockland's Brian Harrington is accustomed to the routine on what was supposed to be a routine run up the middle, an inside power designed for him lead block for 220-pound running back Mike Driscoll and let him do what he does best -- plow through defenders. But when somebody's helmet popped the ball loose for Abington, the 6-foot-2 senior instinctively bent over and scooped it up, marching 83 yards to paydirt down the right sideline, unscathed by Abington jerseys.

"Somebody dove at my legs, and I don't know what I did," Harrington smiled sheepishly. "I must have jumped or something, he just missed me. I saw open field in front of me, so just take off was my first instinct. Luckily, no one caught me and I put six on the board."

And just like that, it was a whole new ball game. The Bulldogs were held to minus-12 yards of offense on six plays in the first half, and faced a 12-0 deficit late in the third quarter at the time of the fumblerooski. But Harrington's pseudo scoop-and-score breathed new life back into the Bulldogs, who exploded for 235 yards of offense in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points over the final 15 minutes to down neighboring rival Abington, 21-12, snap the Green Wave's 34-game home win streak, and move to 7-0 and sole possession of first place in the South Shore League.

"Oh man, it just changed the whole game," said Driscoll, who also blocked a field goal to end the first half and plunged in for the game's final score with 1:42 left. "Brian scooped it up from me, he took it down the sideline, and luckily they touched it and we got to go (downfield). Just a hell of a play by Brian."

The reversal of fortune couldn't have come at a better time. Rockland was held to minus-12 yards of offense on just six plays in the first half, and couldn't shake loose the outside pressure from Abington (6-1), especially defensive end Ryan Southerland and linebacker Christian Barrett. When Barrett slammed quarterback D.J. Austin to the ground on an incomplete third-down pass on the Bulldogs' opening drive, the senior signal-caller limped off to the sidelines favoring his right shoulder.

When Austin returned on the next drive -- some nine minutes after a Green Wave scoring drive, set up with a 12-yard quick slant from Zach Littman to Pat Zadrosny, and capped by a three-yard John Lane plunge -- he was promptly dropped again, this time on a corner blitz from James Cunningham. Abington, behind Littman's darting short passes and elusive dashes up the middle from Lane and Dylan Pietrasik, put up 156 yards of offense and controlled the ball for almost all of the first half.

The halftime talk, you might say, was rousing ("They got on our case," Driscoll said).

"I'll tell you where it was decided," Rockland head coach Ken Owen said. "We go into the half, we're only down 6-0. The way we played in the first half, they stumped us in everything we did on offense. To go in only down 6-0 at halftime gave us a little lift in terms of reorganizing ourselves and getting ourselves squared away for the second half."

From there, the Bulldogs looked like a more disciplined defense. Their four-man front gave Littman less time to throw, and clogged the middle of the field. Following Harrington's momentous return, which made it 12-7 Abington at the time, the Bulldogs came up with another big stand to give them the ball with less than five minutes to go.

Rockland avoided a big scare when an incomplete pass that appeared to be thrown backwards, and was picked up by Green Wave defender, was whistled dead. Several plays later, junior Ricky Witt came in and threw his lone pass attempt of the night, but arguably the biggest. Witt found Tim Fitzgerald wide open in perfect stride in the right seam, and delivered a perfect strike that the senior marched in for a 52-yard score.

Abington fumbled the ball away on the first play of its next possession, pounced on by Devyn Flipp, and Driscoll added the finishing touches a minute later with a short dive across the goal line with less than two minutes left.


R 0 0 7 14 --- 21
A 0 6 6 0 --- 12

Second Quarter
A - John Lane 3 run (rush failed)

Third Quarter
A - Lane 3 run (rush failed)
R - Brian Harrington 83 fumble recovery (Ricky Witt kick)

Fourth Quarter
R - Tim Fitzgerald 52 pass from Witt (Jason Hall run)
R - Mike Driscoll 2 run (run failed)

Rockland survives battle of SSL unbeatens

October, 16, 2010

COHASSET, Mass. – Mike Driscoll was strewn out across the field with the crown of his helmet touching the goal line, his facemask planted into the turf. It was as though the air had slowly been let out of a balloon.

It was only the second quarter, but with Friday night’s South Shore League duel of unbeatens between Driscoll’s Rockland Bulldogs and the Cohasset Skippers shaping up to be a low-scoring struggle, he knew failing to get in on the two-point play could be costly.

“I was hoping it wasn’t going to come down to that. Thankfully, our kicker, Ricky Witt, put that kick through.”

Down 8-6 at halftime, after Driscoll fell an inch short of tying the game in the second quarter, the Bulldogs emerged from the locker room refocused and intent on taking it to the Skippers. Rockland embarked on an Odyssean 15-play drive that spanned nearly eight minutes of the third quarter, led by the bruising runs and blocks of Driscoll.

The result of that drive — a 20-yard field goal by Ricky Witt — coupled with Driscoll’s 117 yards on 23 carries and the persistence of Rockland’s defensive front would make the difference in the Bulldogs’ 9-8 win to remain undefeated at 6-0 and 3-0 in the South Shore.

“I have to give the kids a lot of credit for overcoming a lot of early mistakes in the first half,” Rockland head coach Ken Owen said. “We were only down two points at halftime and I think we felt fortunate to be in that situation the way we played early.

“We kept telling our kicker Ricky Witt that [he was] going to have to win a game for us, whether it be in overtime, It happened to be earlier in the game here, but I credit him for putting the ball through the uprights on a windy night.”

The Bulldogs had great field position to start the game, after Cohasset (5-1, 2-1) fumbled on the opening kickoff. Rockland’s offense took over at the Skippers’ 23-yard line. The Bulldogs were poised to score before Cohasset defensive lineman Kyrel Jaundoo scooped up a fumble by Bulldogs running back Tim Fitzgerald (13 carries, 53 yards) at the Skippers’ 3-yard line and returned it 61 yards to set up his team with good field position.

Three plays later, Thomas Flibotte (18 carries, 91 yards) hit paydirt on a 3-yard run. The following two-point try was successful with quarterback Jeff Cavanaro (8 of 14, 75 yards) hitting Robbie Mahoney in the end zone.

Rockland continued to be their worst enemy on the ensuing drive when Driscoll fumbled the ball into the hands of junior linebacker Sean McKenna.

However, the ensuing Cohasset drive stalled when the defensive struggle between the two teams began in earnest. Three times the Skippers were stopped with a yard-to-go and Rockland regained the ball via a turnover on downs.

The teams traded punts before Rockland gained its first legitimate offensive traction of the game. Driscoll capped a 17-play, 78-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. But his two-point conversion run fell short.

“We killed ourselves in the first half, we killed ourselves with two fumbles, both me and Timmy [Fitzgerald],” Driscoll said. “We messed up, but you can’t do anything about those. But, as we say, halftime is not our enemy, so we just came out in the second half and mowed them.”

It was then the Bulldogs made their game-changing charge with Witt’s kick proving the difference.

Then, it was just a matter of not giving the Skippers anything back.

“Our defensive interior and, in particular, Steven Copeland, they just had a great, great second half,” Owen said. “Of course, Brian Harrington plays well at defensive end, he had some nice stops on them, too. We were able to put a little bit of pressure on the quarterback and on the bootleg in the second half and I think that helped us in our pass coverage.”

Having survived another week unscathed, Rockland has the pleasure of looking forward to yet another matchup next week with an undefeated team atop of the South Shore standings — Abington.

“We knew it was going to come down to Abington and one of us,” Driscoll said. “Now, next week, we have the two of us.”

Rockland 0 6 3 0 -- 9
Cohasset 8 0 0 0 -- 8

1st quarter
Cohasset Thomas Flibotte 3-yard run (Robbie Mahoney pass from Jeff Cavanaro)

2nd quarter
Rockland Mike Driscoll 6-yard run (rush failed)

3rd quarter
Rockland Ricky Witt 20-yard field goal