By Dan Harrison
---- — MIDDLETON — The North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie football team had been there before: at home in a game where the winner claimed the Commonwealth Athletic Conference Small Championship. And every previous time in the program’s 20-year history, the Bulldogs came up short.
But on Saturday they broke the mold, defeating Minuteman 30-6 to snag the cAC Championship. The win also gave head coach Paul Worth his 100th career victory.
“It’s just kind of surreal. We’ve had showdown games at home before, but this is the first time in a winner-take-all game at home that we’ve come away with it,” Worth said of the conference title. “We had the alumni come in for a flag football game earlier and they were all in the stands. It’s a tremendous day.”
The Bulldogs (4-2) went down 6-0 in the first quarter, but rallied to score 30 unanswered points. That including three second-half touchdowns to send the Mustangs packing and earn North Shore a playoff berth.
Having founded the North Shore Tech football program in 1994, Worth knew from a young age that he wanted to coach.
“I remember as a young kid, I dreamed of being a football coach but never thought I’d be in this position,” a choked up Worth said of reaching the century mark. “I think back to when I broke in to coaching with (Peabody’s) Arthur Adamoupolos and seeing his 100-win plaque on the wall. I dreamed of some day getting my own.”
The Bulldogs got the win in very Worth-like fashion, rushing for 330 yards and four touchdowns while playing stifling defense in the second half. Fullback Mike Nuernberg broke a 41-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put NST/EA up for good, 8-6.
Minuteman though responded driving the ball deep into Bulldogs territory before defensive tackle Brent Campbell made a big tackle in the backfield on third down, followed by a batted pass by fety NST/EA safety Ian LaFavour to turn the ball over on downs.
“That would have given them a lot of momentum going into halftime,” explained Worth. “They are a team that likes to play when they’re up. They had the ball for a long time on that drive and we couldn’t get them off the field.”
Ross Murphy (169 yards and 2 TDs on 23 carries) busted loose in the second half as the Bulldogs made a concerted effort to run to the left side behind Campbell, Jack Crawley and Charlie Self — often going unbalanced to do so. Tight end Matt Almon also did a nice job setting the edge.
“I think physically, we took over in the second half. We made a conscious decision to run left and test them on that side,” noted Worth. “We won the game at the line of scrimmage.”
After five straight runs to the left to open the third quarter, LaFavour took a bootleg to the right into the red zone before Murphy scored from 13 yards out on a sweep. Murphy added the final score of the game in the fourth quarter on a nice cutback run he took 29 yards to the house. The senior also had a pair of two-point conversion runs.
Dan Bailey had the other two-point conversion run and added an 8-yard touchdown on a counter.
“We play just 13 guys, so it’s a matter of attrition,” said Mintueman (4-2) head coach Brian Tildsley. “Their style of offense is bound to wear you down. It was the story of the game.”
The story of the season for North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie has been one of exceeding expectations. With a young, talented group, Worth expected the Bulldogs to be solid, but the level of poise they’ve shown six games in has been a welcome surprise.
“This team’s overachieved,” said Worth. “I thought we’d be a good, young team — but I didn’t realize we could compete with veteran teams.”