- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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WALPOLE, Mass. -- Even when you thought there might be a score … POP!
Border rivals Norwood and Walpole battled to a scoreless first half Thursday night at Turco Field. But it looked as though the Rebels had finally broken the stalemate late in the third quarter on a Dave Thibault run only to be met by a thunderous, ball-jarring hit at the goal line.
Eventually, No. 22 Walpole did in fact break the scoreless tie and would go on to a 14-0 win over the Mustangs, taking a big step toward a Bay State Herget title, but that particular play was indicative of the hard-hitting, defensive struggle between the two sides.
It took more than three quarters, but when the Rebels (5-0) got going, they kept going, scoring on successive fourth-quarter drives with a pair of rushing touchdowns from Cam and Craig Hanley separated by two minutes. Coupled with a stifling defense and its ever-present, yet disciplined pass rush the Rebels were able to bottle up the Mustangs and its offense led by quarterback Tommy Munro.
“We knew we had to stop the run up front and we knew we had to contain [Munro] from running to the outside, which our ends did a great job,” Cam Hanley said. “We needed to make sure we wrapped him up.”
The Rebels’ first brush with the end zone came with 6:06 to play in the third. Walpole had terrific field position thanks to Craig Hanley’s 38-yard punt return, which set up the Rebels offense at the Mustangs’ 26-yard line. Five plays later, Thibault tried to punch in the first score of the game on a jet sweep to the right. Just as the senior was about to cross the goal line, he was met by Norwood defensive end Gus Martin. After an audible popping of the shoulder pads, the ball flung out of Thibault’s hands straight into the air, allowing linebacker Sam Anderson to corral the loose ball in the end zone.
It looked like just the break the Mustangs (4-1) needed as Norwood went on the offensive.
“We went to our no-huddle,” Norwood head coach John Sarianides said. “We had a great first play and got ourselves into a second and short. But then, we commit a penalty, we lined up off the line.”
Following the ensuing Norwood punt, Walpole embarked on the game-winning 9-play, 54-yard drive capped off by Cam Hanley’s 15-yard run.
SETTING UP SHOP
The Rebels defensive line made its living in the Mustangs’ backfield all evening long. Paced by senior captain and defensive tackle Dan King (2 tackles for loss; 1 sack) and Cam Hanley (3 TFL), Walpole got steady pressure on Munro (4-of-11, 59 yards) and disrupted the pace of the Norwood offense.
“They did a great job with their pressure,” Sarianides said. “We threw everything at them, formation-wise, but we had some problems with their pressure.
“At halftime, we made some adjustments to our protection, we were able to solve some of it on the inside, but their edge pressure gave us a lot of problems and it really affected our ability to get our playmakers open in space to let them create. So that’s a credit to them.”
FILLING BIG SHOES
Thibault, a mainstay of both Walpole’s offensive and defensive units, left the game in the third quarter with a concussion. Thibault was helped off the field on the second play of the defensive series following the big hit on the goal-line fumble.
It was left up the younger Hanley, Cam, to pick up the slack.
“He’s a good player [Thibault], obviously,” said Hanley, who finished with 10 carries for 75 yards. “When he went down, we were struggling a little bit. They asked me to go in, so I went in and did what I could.”
Norwood (4-1) 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Walpole (5-0) 0 0 0 14 -- 14
Walpole Cam Hanley 15-yard run (kick failed)
Walpole Craig Hanley 5-yard run (P.J. Hayes run)