By Phil Stacey
---- — LYNN — It is rare when a game ball is awarded after a Bishop Fenwick football victory.
So when head coach David Woods addressed his squad following a thorough 34-6 thumping over St. Mary’s of Lynn Saturday night — giving Fenwick not only the 300th win in program history, but also the Catholic Central League title for the first time since 2003 — he had no qualms breaking with standard protocol.
He tossed the football towards Nick Bona, the senior captain who completed 11-of-15 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns and was in on so many plays defensively that if he didn’t make 15 tackles, then Tom Brady isn’t a first ballot Hall of Famer.
The gesture was dripping with symbolism. On a team loaded with talent both in the skill positions and the line Bona is its heartbeat, the player every other Crusader feeds off of. This game ball wasn’t just for his performance Saturday night, or what he’s done all season to bring Fenwick to a 6-0 mark. This was more for everything Bona has done for Fenwick football since first stepping into the lineup as a freshman back in 2010.
“This couldn’t have worked out any better. I just wish they didn’t score that late touchdown off a broken play,” laughed the 17-year-old Bona at game’s end.
Fenwick’s senior class has been pointing to this season for more than two years; not just because it’d be the last time they all played together, but because they knew how talented they’d be and how much they could possibly accomplish.
“We want to be in the (Division 5) Super Bowl at Gillette (Stadium),” said captain Charlie St. Pierre, one of the anchors of a line that allowed Fenwick to gain 374 yards and pile up 21 first downs against the Spartans.
“We have ever since the last game of last season,” added fellow captain Eric Razney.
“Even before that we did,” chimed in yet another captain, fullback James Traversey.
Fenwick is good — and they know it. But to their credit, they know that all their dreams and gosh-I-hope-so’s in the world aren’t going to get them to their ultimate destination. It will take continued sacrifice, hard work every time they strap on the pads and a belief in each other when times inevitably get tougher.
Saturday night at Manning Field was a microcosm of that. St. Mary’s — Fenwick’s biggest rival in all sports — surprised the Crusaders by coming out in a Single Wing offense, gaining 38 yards on its first two plays. Adjusting on the fly, Fenwick’s seniors responded, shutting down the Spartans (3-3) on four straight plays to force the change of possession.
“That set the tone of the game right there,” said Woods.
Once they got the ball in their hands, Fenwick swiftly moved it upfield with power and precision.
Using a spread, pro set and even Power-I formations at times, Fenwick attacked the hosts on the ground and the air. They even used two junior linemen — 6-foot-1, 225-pound Brandon DeBeradinis and 6-1, 210-pound David Hurley — as fullbacks to gain big clumps of yardage during drives.
Using a deft passing touch, Bona (”I don’t have the biggest hands in the world, but when I find my grip on the ball I can really throw it,”) hit a wide open Razney for a 28-yard score in the first quarter, then found Charlie Maistrellis on a 9-yard slant and again on a wide-open 30-yard fly pattern for two more scores in the second quarter.
“Perfect placement on that second (touchdown pass),” said Maistrellis, who caught a game-high five passes for 73 yards. “The (slant) was a collision in the air where I had to really hold onto the ball, but Nick’s second pass was just perfect.”
“Nick probably weighs all of 150 pounds,” added Woods, “but you can’t weigh the size of his heart.”
Junior tailback Rufus Rushins (158 yards on 20 carries, giving him 956 yards and 15 TDs in a half-dozen games) took care of business in the second half, scoring twice on runs of 2 and 22 yards — the second of which he was hit by two St. Mary’s defenders at the 16-yard line and literally dragged, at one time or another, seven different Spartans with him en route to crossing the goal line.
This marked the first time Fenwick’s seniors had beaten St. Mary’s on the gridiron, following back-to-back shutout losses as freshmen and sophomores and a 2-point loss last fall.
“Beating them for the title, this was a gift,” admitted Traversey.
As satisfying as this victory was, the five Fenwick captains to a man admitted it’s merely Goal No. 1 that has been reached. Goal No. 2 is beating Archbishop Williams this weekend to finish the regular season 7-0 and earn the top seed in the upcoming Division 5 North playoffs. More goals await after that, with the final one taking place in Foxborough on the first Saturday in December.
“It’s all about readying ourselves for our next set of goals. That’s what keeps us hungry,” said St. Pierre.
If that’s the case, Woods might want to have a few more game balls handy for future use.
Phil Stacey is the sports editor of The Salem News. Contact him at email@example.com or 978-338-2650, and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN.