The Beverly High football team didn't take the time to enjoy the run while it was in the midst of it.
The Panthers now have a lifetime to treasure their accomplishments.
Beverly completed a perfect season (13-0) and achieved its ultimate goal by capturing the Division 2A Super Bowl championship with a 28-21 win over Natick at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
The Panthers believed they could be the best team on the field each week, but had a feeling of disbelief after putting the Redhawks away.
"This group really went above and beyond. It's hard to put into words right now," Beverly coach Dan Bauer said. "We didn't think (about our record) week to week, but we kind of thought a little bit about it this week. 'Wow, we're 12-0, but we have this big game to worry about so we'll deal with that later.' Now we're dealing with it and it's just hard to believe."
Powered by a senior class that seemed completely determined to be the best squad in program history, the Panthers were always focused and prepared.
"Our motto all season was just 'finish', and we did," senior captain and defensive back Dom Abate said. "It feels awesome for this senior class to finish like this."
Beverly stuck with its bread-and-butter Saturday: a solid bend-but-don't-break defense and a relentless running attack on offense.
All 347 of Beverly's offensive yards came via the ground game, with senior captain Brendan Flaherty totaling 175 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. Junior Isaiah White added 87 yards on 11 carries while captain Kenny Pierce produced 71 yards on seven carries.
"This means the world to us. We've been working hard since the summer and this was our ultimate goal," said Pierce, who scored a pair of first-half touchdowns. "We had weekly goals, which is great and everything, but this was our long-term goal and we worked toward it. It feels great to get the win."
The Panthers built their reputation this season on a running game that could blast the opponent with multiple weapons, but the team's defense made some of the biggest plays against Natick.
The Redhawks were led by strong-armed, fleet-footed quarterback Troy Flutie, the nephew of former Boston College, Canadian Football League, and National Football League star Doug Flutie. He was a handful for the Panthers, completing 22 of 39 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, but Beverly got the stops when it needed them most.
No stop was bigger than preventing Natick from producing points after a long drive just before halftime.
Beverly led 14-7 when Natick had a 10-play possession that advanced all the way to the Beverly 7-yard line. White then made two huge defensive plays at that point from his inside linebacker spot, both times blasting into the Redhawks' backfield from the left edge to drop Flutie for losses. The first was for 2 yards, the second for an 11-yard sack that essentially ended the scoring threat.
Instead of facing a tie ballgame, Beverly carried a lead into the second half.
"That was huge. Credit coach Bauer; he's a great defensive coach," Flaherty said. "We were all executing well and doing our 1/11th. That's what we live by, and being able to finish that drive without letting them score was huge for us. That was a big momentum swing."
The Redhawks scored first after taking advantage of a muffed punt by Beverly. Flutie connected with sophomore receiver Brian Dunlap for a 10-yard score, but Pierce scored on runs of 27 and 4 yards to give Beverly the lead before halftime.
In the second half, Beverly and Natick had alternating touchdowns. Following a fumble recovery off a Natick dropped punt, Flaherty scored from 3 yards to push Beverly's lead to 21-7., But Flutie hit Dunlap again, this time from 6 yards, to make it a one-score game again.
Flaherty's second TD was a 4-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter, but the Redhawks quickly answered again with Nick Lee running one in from 2 yards with only 6:52 to play.
Beverly had an excellent opportunity to salt the game away with a strong final drive, which included a 5-yard run off an unbalanced quick pitch to Flaherty on a fourth-and-3 from Beverly's own 43-yard line. The Panthers fumbled the ball away on the goal line, however, to give Flutie and Natick one final chance with 1:19 to play.
Flutie advanced the Redhawks over midfield, but his final three passes fell incomplete.
"We wanted it real bad," Flaherty said. "I can't even explain how bad we wanted it, but I think it showed with our play."
Division 2A Super Bowl
Beverly 28, Natick 21
at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
Natick (11-2) 7 0 7 7 — 21
Beverly (13-0) 0 14 7 7 — 28
N—Brian Dunlap 10 pass from Troy Flutie (Sam Lenson kick)
B—Kenny Pierce 27 run (Harry Brown kick)
B—Pierce 4 run (Brown kick)
B—Brendan Flaherty 3 run (Brown kick)
N—Dunlap 6 pass from Flutie (Lenson kick)
B—Flaherty 4 run (Brown kick)
N—Nick Lee 2 run (Lenson kick)
RUSHING: Natick — Troy Flutie 18-38, Nick Lee 9-37; Beverly — Brendan Flaherty 30-175, Isiah White 11-87, Kenny Pierce 7-71, Luke McDonald 1-11, Dave Rollins 2-3.
PASSING: Natick — Flutie 22-39-266-2-0; Beverly — Rollins 0-1-0-0-0.
RECEIVING: Natick — Alex Hilger 8-113, Andrew Boynton 7-64, Brian Dunlap 5-60, Justin Robinson 1-27, Nick Lee 1-2; Beverly — None.