PEABODY — You can game plan to slow down Bishop Fenwick’s running attack. You can game plan to slow down the Crusaders’ passing game. And, if you’re lucky, you might even hold back both a little on a given night.
What you can’t game plan for is Nick Bona making plays in the most dire situations.
Austin Prep came to Donaldson Field last night for a Division 5 North semifinal against Fenwick with a solid plan, and the Cougars executed it to near perfection. But Bona produced points on a pair of fourth down plays and added the insurance touchdown with time winding down in the Crusaders’ 28-12 victory.
Unbeaten Fenwick will host the Divison 5 North final Friday night against the winner of today’s Northeast Regional-Manchester Essex game.
“He’s the MVP of our league; it’s not even close,” Austin Prep coach Bill Maradei said about Bona. “He’s a great player ... we had him 4th-and-10, we had him 4th-and-20.”
Bona’s ability to make something out of nothing destroyed the Cougars, who were getting into the backfield regularly on both pass and run plays.
Midway through the second quarter with Fenwick leading 7-6, the Crusaders found themselves facing a 4th-and-10 at the Austin Prep 25. Bona dropped back to pass but elected to tuck it away, facing heavy pressure. He eluded at least four tackles in the backfield before sprinting ahead for the score.
That touchdown drive was kept alive by another fourth down conversion when Bona connected with James Traversey for a 7-yard pickup on 4th-and-3.
Bona’s fourth down heroics didn’t stop there.
Fenwick perfectly executed a fake punt on 4th-and-10 from midfield when Eric Razney dumped the ball off to Traversey, who raced 30 yards downfield.
The Crusaders were unable to move the ball for three plays, then took a 10-yard penalty on fourth down. Bona was unfazed by a 4th-and-20 situation, delivering an on-the-money pass to a streaking Razney, who scored from 30 yards out.
“Big players make big plays in big games, and Nick certainly made some tonight. And James and Eric, that’s why they’re in the position they’re in. These guys have worked hard for four years and they’ve put themselves here,” Fenwick coach Dave Woods said. “We’ve run that (fake punt) every day when we run special teams at practice for the last four years. I think we’ve run it once in the last four years and it worked tonight.
“We didn’t want to go 3-and-out to start the second half. We didn’t want to give them the ball at the 50-yard line either, but we had faith in Eric and James.”
Austin Prep made things interesting with a time-consuming drive that lasted more than 10 minutes. Jonathan Saurman eventually scored from a yard out on fourth down, but Fenwick’s defense came up big in preventing the Cougars from converting the extra point.
The 21-12 lead at that point meant it was still a two-score game with 6:22 to play. So the Crusaders put it away with an 11-play drive, capped by Bona’s 13-yard TD. Bona ran for 58 yards on the drive.
“It was definitely a lot of heart,” Bona said. “Most of the plays we were running on fourth down, you could hear them saying what they were. They knew what play was coming and we just had to make something of it. They watched their film.”
Bona ended up running for 111 yards on 17 carries while throwing for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Robert Carrillo filled some of the void left by junior running back Rufus Rushins’ injury. He ran for 38 yards on six carries, including Fenwick’s first touchdown on a 2-yard run.
“(Assistant) coach (Dave) Dugan said it perfect that that (Austin Prep) drive basically took them out of the game because it took so long,” Woods said. “Then, we stopped the extra point and it was a two-score game. They just didn’t have enough time.”