By Matt Jenkins
---- — The Beverly High football team is so confident in its ability and so focused on preparation that something as simple as a difference in playing style is not going to derail them.
The Panthers beat a run-heavy Burlington team on Tuesday in the Division 2A semifinals, and the reward was a Super Bowl matchup with a Natick team that prefers to sling the ball all over the gridiron.
Beverly defensive backs Dom Abate, Ryan Shipp, Kenny Pierce, and Brendan Flaherty will be asked to make a lot of plays against Natick this afternoon (3:30 p.m.) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro as the Panthers try to make it two Super Bowl titles in three years.
The Flutie name — particularly former Boston College, Canadian Football League, and National Football League great Doug — put Natick High football on the map many years ago, and another Flutie is attempting to take the Redhawks to great heights this season. Doug’s nephew, Troy, is the trigger man for Natick this season, and the junior is a major concern for the Beverly defense.
“He’s outstanding. He will be the best quarterback we face all year,” Beverly coach Dan Bauer said. “He has great poise in the pocket, but scrambles and seems to find receivers downfield. He runs the offense with great efficiency.”
Flutie has been one of the most dangerous offensive players in Massachusetts this season, having thrown for 33 touchdowns and rushed for another 14.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a quarterback this good in a while,” Beverly senior defensive end Mike Dooling said. “But we’re very confident in our defensive backs. They’ve all played great his year and they’re up for it.”
Flutie has some excellent receivers, including juniors Alex Hilger, Andrew Boynton, and Justin Robinson. Flutie’s favorite target, however, is sophomore Brian Dunlap, who has hauled in 19 touchdown passes this fall.
The Panthers got some experience playing against passing teams when they battled Lynn English, Swampscott, and Salem this year. Although none of those teams posed the threat that Natick does, Beverly remains confident.
“We have to play physical because when you play a spread team sometimes they don’t like to play physical. We have to stay disciplined, not let up any big plays, and stay in our zones and play our game,” Abate said. “I think we match up pretty well. They have a bunch of athletes on their team, but we’re competing every day with each other. We should be able to hold them up on defense.”
Natick does have a tough, in-between the tackles type of running back in Nick Lee, but he is currently listed as a game-time decision.
On the flip side, Natick does have the unenviable task of trying to slow down Beverly’s potent offense.
“They’re well balanced and very well coached. Their offense is scary. They’re explosive with their misdirection, and they shift quite a bit,” Natick coach Mark Mortarelli said. “Number 33 (Flaherty) is one of the better players I’ve seen. We want to try to contain him as much as possible, but it looks like no one has done that. That looks like our biggest challenge.”
Flaherty is now up to 1,321 yards rushing, and Mortarelli knows his team also has to worry about guys like Pierce (830 yards, 13 TDs) and Isaiah White (775 yards, 6 TDs).
“We gotta take care of the basics. We gotta tackle because they have a really strong running game, and we have to make sure we don’t give up extra yards,” Mortarelli said. “We have to catch the ball, and block and tackle.”
Another possible advantage Beverly has is its familiarity with playing on a stage as big as Gillette.
Two years ago, the Panthers won a Super Bowl on the Gillette turf, with Abate, Flaherty, and Pierce in the starting lineup as sophomores.
“I think (our experience) helps a little bit, but it still comes down to who executes,” Abate said. “Having our class that was there before, we know the routine and what to expect. We’re not going to be caught up in the hype and the surroundings. We’ll be ready to play.”
Aside from all their skill and athleticism, one of Beverly’s biggest strengths this season has been its ability to focus on the next opponent.
“We played some good teams and each game, each week built on other weeks. The seniors have been playing together for so long they wanted to have a winning season, win the conference, beat Salem, and then get to the postseason,” Bauer said. “Expectations are higher, but these seniors were in Foxboro as sophomores and they’ve had the chance to experience this whole week. I hope that helps because this venue is huge and can take you back when you realize how big the stage is that you’re on. I think that will be a plus for us, for sure.”
Beverly (12-0) vs. Natick (11-2) starting lineups BEVERLY Offense 55 Kevin Kenndy LT Sr. 57 Marc Babcock LG Sr. 58 Brian Perry C Sr. 50 Zack Duguid RG Jr. 78 Mike Dooling RT Sr. 12 Brendan McGee TE Sr. 3 Ryan Shipp WR Sr. 5 Dom Abate WB Sr. 10 Dave Rollins QB Sr. 33 Brendan Flaherty FB Sr. 28 Kenny Pierce RB Sr. Defense 78 Mike Dooling DE Sr. 58 Brian Perry NG Sr. 50 Zack Duguid DE Jr. 8 Luke McDonald LB Sr. 22 Isaiah White LB Jr. 53 Sean Winston LB Jr. 15 Sam Mulumba LB Jr. 3 Ryan Shipp CB Sr. 28 Kenny Pierce CB Sr. 5 Dom Abate SS Sr. 33 Brendan Flaherty FS Sr. NATICK Offense 66 Jesse Kattany RT Sr. 76 Lee Griesma RG Jr. 62 Kyle Dembrowski C So. 56 Robby Beausoleil LG Sr. 58 David Reynolds LT Sr. 10 Troy Flutie QB Jr. 44 Jack Lowell RB Sr. 1 Brian Dunlap WR So. 3 Alex Hilger WR Jr. 18 Andrew Boynton WR Jr. 5 Justin Robinson WR Jr. Defense 44 Jack Lowell NT Sr. 70 Matt Palmer DT Jr. 56 Robby Beausoleil DT Sr. 85 Ross Brayman DE Sr. 13 Trenton Wright DE So. 34 Zach Hilger LB Sr. 21 Mike Dunlap LB Sr. 33 Gus Black LB Jr. 16 Jack Turner CB Sr. 39 Larion Johnson CB Sr. 11 Mike Abbruzzese S Jr.