By Phil Stacey
---- — SOUTH HAMILTON — They simply had no answers.
Whatever the Dexter football team tried Saturday afternoon -- going away from its spread aerial attack to a punishing ground game, timely passes to its glue-fingered receiver, Mark Webber, or rushing a defensive front that had a seemingly unstoppable motor — it all worked.
And as stated above, a very good but undermanned Pingree football team had no answers.
The Highlanders saw their dreams of a prep school bowl bid go up in smoke as the visitors scored on eight of their nine possessions and dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a 56-26 victory.
“They had a brilliant game plan. They knew coming in we were missing three starting linemen, and there’s not much we can do when we don’t have the depth where we can afford that,” said Pingree head coach Chris Powers. That’s a smart move when you have that big line like they have, those very talented linemen to run behind.”
Pingree (6-2) was without three of their starting linemen because of either injuries suffered the previous week or, in the case of hulking sophomore Nino Leone, illness.
As a result, the Highlanders couldn’t get their own running game established; they managed just 102 yards via the ground after averaging nearly 256 their first seven games. So while sophomore quarterback Griffin Beal (13-for-20, 278 yards) did his best to keep the hosts in the game, throwing three touchdown passes, it simply wasn’t enough.
Pingree had beaten Dexter in all seven of its previous meetings back to 2006, but John F. Kennedy’s alma mater was ready from the get-go this time around.
“We felt we had to get the running game going this week. We’ve been a finesse spread, speed-up team, (but Saturday) we just felt like it was the game we had to be physical,” Dexter (7-1) head coach Casey Day said. “We had to impose our running game on them.”
Behind twin 6-foot-7 behemoth tackles James Hendren (committed to Boston College) and Dan DiNicola (headed to UMass Amherst), Dexter ran for 385 yards and showed outstanding leg drive and refusal to go down after the first, or in many cases second, hit from a Pingree defender. Running backs Mahlon Hanifin (165 yards, TD), Colin O’Brien (99 yards, 2 TDs) and Matt Cuneo (80 yards) as well as his twin brother, quarterback Luke Cuneo (2 TDs) all took advantage of the holes that were created by their teammates.
In all, Dexter had a staggering 566 yards of total offense and averaged a shade under nine yards a play.
“Lots of my guys, they’ve been playing varsity for four years and (Pingree), that’s the team we’ve been chasing,” said Day. “They’re the ones that have established themselves in this (Evergreen) League, and they’re what’s pushed us to this point.”
Dexter also made sure that Pingree’s all-world talent, Johnnie Spears, didn’t beat them single-handedly. While the senior speed demon finished with 187 all-purpose yards, Dexter limited his touches and surrendered only a 33-yard Beal-to-Spears TD strike that he made a terrific leaping catch on.
“I think they did a really nice job of allowing him to get the ball but keeping him in front of them, using multiple guys to make that happen,” said Powers. “We had to make the decision that we couldn’t sit there and try to run the ball like we usually do, enough to keep us balanced. That definitely hurt us in the end.”
Webber, who is going to Babson to play baseball but rejoined the football team for the first time since freshman year this fall, caught five passes for 181 yards and TD grabs of 61, 47 and 11 yards.
Pingree’s own outstanding wideout, Justin Assad, also had a fantastic game by catching six balls for 178 yards and a pair of 37-yard TD passes.
Powers said there’s “a slim outside chance” Pingree could still be chosen for a bowl game. Either way, the Highlanders will wrap up their season Thanksgiving morning at Bishop Fenwick against the unbeaten Crusaders.