By Matt Jenkins
---- — PEABODY — The first seven football games of Bishop Fenwick’s season were showcases of speed, athleticism, strength and intelligence.
Last night, in a Division 5 North first round game against St. Mary’s, the Crusaders proved they can win with heart.
Powerful junior running back Rufus Rushins, who came into the night as the area’s second-leading rusher, was knocked out of the game with a dislocated elbow. At the time, Fenwick led by just one point, but the Crusaders rose to the occasion and pulled away with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns in a 33-12 victory.
The final score is deceiving.
“We knew it was going to be a battle and that was the most fun we’ve had at halftime in a long time. That’s football,” Fenwick (8-0) coach Dave Woods said. “Somebody asked me about a week ago if your kids are going to be in a tough game, how do you think they’ll respond? We answered that tonight, no question.”
The Crusaders will play the winner of today’s Austin Prep-Whittier Tech matchup in the next round.
Senior wide receiver Charlie Maistrellis showed his versatility all night. He was the change of pace back when Rushins was still in the game, breaking off a 26-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Then, with Rushins sidelined, he took over as the primary rushing threat and scored the biggest touchdown of the game, bouncing a fourth-quarter carry outside and getting into the end zone from 27 yards away.
That score gave Fenwick some breathing room with a 26-12 advantage with 8:36 to play.
“That (score) was huge,” Maistrellis said. “It killed the other team mentally, and put the game away right there.”
Maistrellis set up the touchdown with a great catch on a long pass thrown by Nick Bona into the wind. On 2nd-and-15 from their own 31-yard line, the Fenwick captains hooked up on a 34-yard gain. Bona led his receiver down the middle of the field, and Maistrellis out-jumped the St. Mary’s defensive back for the catch.
“That ball was up in the air a long time,” St. Mary’s (4-4) coach Matt Durgin said. “They’ve been doing it all year, so it’s not luck. That’s what they do and we have great respect for them. Those kids have been playing since their freshman year.”
Bona had his usual brilliant game, completing 8 of 15 passes for 129 yards and running for 70 yards, including touchdown runs of 3 and 11 yards. His final score, which was set up by a bad snap on a St. Mary’s punt attempt, came with just 6:03 to go.
“Bona is one of the top players on the North Shore, if not the top kid other than the kid (Johnny Thomas) from the Prep,” Durgin said.
Woods came into the game worried about St. Mary’s big-play ability and the Spartans hit Fenwick with two in the first half. Freshman Abraham Toe slipped through some tackles and raced 63 yards for a score on the final play of the first quarter.
Then, playing with the wind at their back, quarterback Antonio Felix hit Connor Sakowich for a 72-yard scoring strike to cut Fenwick’s lead to 13-12 with 4:23 to play in the first half.
The Fenwick defense responded to the challenge in the second half, holding St. Mary’s to 72 yards after the break.
“For our defense to come up the way they did in the second half and play that tough, that’s what wins championships,” Woods said.
Chasing a championship could get a little more difficult with Rushins expected to miss time.
Rushins tweeted late last night that he’s hoping to get back for the Super Bowl if Fenwick makes it that far.
“When Rufus went down that was a little scary, but everyone fought back and we played our butts off,” Maistrellis said. “We’re just a bunch of tough kids. When we have setbacks we don’t really let it get to us at all. In the locker room when Rufus was down, we all kept our heads up.”