---- — FOXBOROUGH — Rufus Rushins says he never believed that he wouldn’t be here, playing under the lights in a high school Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
The way he smiles, taking in the thrill of Bishop Fenwick’s 28-0 win over Northbridge in the Division 5 championship game Saturday night, it’s impossible not to believe him.
It would’ve been easy for Rushins, a powerhouse junior running back, to doubt this when he dislocated his elbow five weeks ago. He missed most of the next four games, but no matter how much it hurt he never stopped believing he’d be playing in the House Tom Brady Built.
Playing with his elbow wrapped and braced, Rushins looked no worse for wear Saturday night. Running for 162 yards on 15 carries, he scored three touchdowns and added a two-point conversion to power the Crusaders’ rout.
“I knew I’d be back,” said Rushins, who tweeted that exact thought in the hours after he got hurt. He also rushed for 152 yards in his return from injury, a state semifinal win over Abington.
“I honestly felt close to 100 percent. I knew I was good to go. It was a little bit of a tough journey, mostly because I lost some of my wind. I worked hard to get that back.”
The Crusaders echoed Rushins’ faith. From start to finish, Fenwick never doubted they were the best team in the state in Division 5. Losing, with or without their lead running back, never crossed their minds.
When you outscore your opponents 510-163, you’ve earned the right to that confidence.
Northbridge came into Saturday’s Super Bowl with a bigger offensive and defensive line, averaging 250 pounds among the starters compared to 227 for the Crusaders. That size led a lot of folks to favor the Rams, the logic being that Fenwick might have a tough time both running and stopping the run.
Rushins and his offensive line reduced that theory to rubble.
The statistics are staggering. The Crusaders ran for 226 yards compared to a net of 12 yards rushing for Northbridge. Fenwick averaged 7.5 yards per carry; Northbridge didn’t climb out of negative rushing yardage until late in the fourth quarter, and their longest run from scrimmage was eight yards — Rufus had seven runs longer than that, and Fenwick quarterback Nick Bona had four.
The battle in the trenches was a decisive technical knockout for the Crusader line: Charlie St. Pierre, Tyler Kaufman, Justice Andrade, Brandon DeBerardinis and David Hurley (plus Josh Ninconchuk and James Traversey in the jumbo package).
“They were big, strong and tough, but tonight was our night,” said St. Pierre, expanding on what it takes to win the physical battle with a bigger opponent across the line of scrimmage.
“You kind of have to figure out what he’s going to do. You definitely have to get lower than a bigger guy and have quicker footwork. You just get inside him, and then comes down to who wants it more.”
The Crusaders certainly wanted it on a 9-play scoring drive in the second quarter. Every call was a run to either Rushins or Bona. Fenwick didn’t face a third down on the game-changing march, which was capped by a 2-yard Rushins plunge and stretched the lead from six points to 14-0.
“When we can run it with Rufus and Nick, there’s no reason to put it in the air too much,” said Fenwick head coach Dave Woods, who tied an area coaching record by winning his third Super Bowl title. He had plenty of faith in his line, even with Northbridge loading the box with defenders.
“The line was awesome. It was a lot of double teams, and then working out to the linebackers.”
Early in the third quarter, Rushins and the line essentially put the game away. On 3rd-and-2, Rushins broke up the middle for a 49-yard touchdown that was so exquisitely blocked it would have been a touchdown from anywhere on the field.
“It was perfect. Our center, Justice (Andrade) made a great block and I saw a lot of green in front of me. I just booked it as fast as I could,” said Rushins.
“I was trying to watch it on the Jumbotron, but I was a little too excited to focus,” added St. Pierre. “Having Rufus back at 100 percent was huge for our team. He played harder than he ever has these last two playoff games.”
In what amounts to nine games played this year, Rushins topped 150 yards rushing six times. He ran for a career high 1,451 yards and 23 TDs, and now had 3,793 career rushing yards and 51 rushing touchdowns. He’s part of an elite North Shore running back club with three straight 1,000-yard seasons and is on pace to make history by adding a fourth next year with three of Fenwick’s five starting O-linemen returning.
As strong as those numbers are, the beauty of the Crusaders is that they are hardly a one-man show. All 11 guys on the field contributed to every big gain by Rushins or Bona, and all 32 regular rostered players (plus 17 freshmen that got the experience of a lifetime dressing for the Super Bowl) had a hand in this championship.
“Without question the greatest team this school has ever had,” said Woods. “I’m just happy I was along for the ride. I can’t believe I’m not going to get to coach some of these guys again.”
There’s also little question this was the most dominant offensive line the Crusaders have ever had.
“Some of those holes were so big, anybody could’ve run through them,” said Bona.
Run they did. Powered by the strength of their belief in each other and by an amazing effort in the trenches, Bishop Fenwick ran over the Rams. They ran right into school and area record books, and now, every team that comes next will be running after them.
Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.