By Phil Stacey
---- — They have combined for 106 total touchdowns this fall, both love to run the football and have a grand total of one loss between them.
In other words: irresistible force, meet immovable object.
Two squads with more than a few gridiron traits in common meet in tonight’s Division 2A playoff semifinals as unbeaten Beverly High (11-0) looks for its second Super Bowl appearance in the last three seasons when it takes on the once-beaten hosts from Burlington (7:45 p.m.).
“They’re solid all-around,” Sean Maguire, in his 20th year as the head coach at Burlington, said of Beverly. “They’ve got two very good running backs and their quarterback is a solid kid. And defensively, they haven’t given up points to anyone and they’re where they should be and tackle well. Plus, they cover the pass pretty well. There’s really no holes there.”
Dan Bauer, who will be looking for his 68th win on the Beverly sidelines tonight (in his 110th game as head coach), lobbed similar praise towards the 10-1 Red Devils, who won the Middlesex League’s highly competitive Freedom Division.
“They’ve got some size and defensively, they’re very strong,” said Bauer. “It’s a two-back team (offensively) and both are outstanding game breakers; you have to be solid across the board (defensively) against them. Also, their lines are aggressive and come off the play very physical at the point of attack. And scheme-wise, they won’t put themselves in a bad position.”
So is this, in theory, a little bit like facing mirror images of one another?
“I guess people could say that,” said Bauer.
Naturally, there are differences in the two clubs. Beverly — which won the Division 2A Super Bowl two seasons ago with several of this year’s seniors playing key roles on that team as sophomores — has made a living feasting on teams with its multi-faceted, ever-deceptive Wing-T offense, using a variety of backs and the occasional play-action pass to pile up pinball-like numbers on the scoreboard. With 409 points scored thus far, the Panthers are far and away the highest scoring team in school history. Defensively, their first team unit has allowed just six touchdowns all season.
Any one of five Beverly backs — captains Brendan Flaherty (20 TDs, 124 points), Kenny Pierce and Dom Abate, as well as senior Luke McDonald and junior Isiah White — are capable of carrying the rock for big distances when called upon.
Burlington is more of a multi-dimensional team on offense; “we’ll run anything out of any formation,” said Maguire. The Red Devils rely heavily on their two star running backs: Marcus Odiah, the program’s all-time single season and career rushing leader with better than 1,700 and 4,000 yards, respectively. He also has 21 touchdowns and 130 points in 2012 — that’s surpassed only by his backfield mate, Anthony Cruz, and his 22 TDs and 138 points, to go along with 1,300-plus yards on the ground.
Together, Odiah and Cruz have all but nine of Burlington’s 52 touchdowns this season. Conversely, Beverly has watched 10 of its players score at least one of its 54 touchdowns. The Panthers have a team total of 3,407 rushing yards; the Red Devils come in with just a few dozen more.
“I coached at Melrose for two years when Sean was the head coach in Burlington, and they were physical, hard-nosed and well-coached. I’m guessing not much has changed,” said Bauer.
Quarterback Shane Farley returned from an injury three games ago and has played well, diversifying Burlington’s offense. Two other game-changers for the hosts tonight could be Mark Woods, a big, physical two-way lineman and Jirair Manoukian, a tight end/defensive end who can be a menace on both sides of the ball.
Beverly counters with senior captain Dave Rollins, who also missed time this season (mono) but has been quietly efficient with seven touchdown passes and just one interception. On the line, Mike Dooling, Zack Duguid, Kevin Kennedy, Brian Perry, Brendan McGee and captain Marc Babcock have compensated against bigger opponents in the trenches all season with their speed, athleticism and getting leverage on their blocks.
Luke McDonald, Sean Winston, Sam Mulumba and White will be the linebackers responsible for making sure Odiah and Cruz don’t scorch the Panther defense with breakaway runs. The all-senior secondary of Ryan Shipp, Pierce, Abate and Flaherty are the last line of defense, all speedsters capable for making tackles in the open field.
Burlington has never won a Super Bowl on Maguire’s watch; they ended Natick’s 26-game winning streak in the 2006 playoff semifinals, but fell to Foxboro in the title game. Last year’s squad was 7-4 but lost its three league games by a grand total of 10 points, fueling the fire for this year’s impressive showing.
“There’s no two ways about it; we can’t let our guard down against this team,” said Maguire.
With 10-minute quarters and just three time-outs per team in each half (as opposed to 5), Bauer realizes worrying about what his team can control, and only what his team can control, is of paramount importance.
“Confidence in each other as players, that’s what you strive for,” said Bauer. “You want them to be able to react and think on their own in a critical situation, to make decisions that correlate with what we’ve practiced all year. To embrace it and have ownership of it ... that’s what we strive for.”
BEVERLY STATISTICS RUSHING Player Att. Yards TDs Brendan Flaherty 117 1,070 12 Kenny Pierce 60 780 12 Isaiah White 79 666 6 Luke McDonald 34 275 3 Dom Abate 48 270 5 Joey Kozlowski 11 141 2 Mike McKenna 7 67 0 Bruno Kaetano 17 69 0 Nick Manthorne 19 39 1 Steve Negron 4 16 0 Dave Rollins 6 7 0 Peter Reusch 2 5 0 Zach Duguid 1 2 0 PASSING Player Cmp. At. Yds TDs INTs Dave Rollins 23 49 400 7 1 Nick Manthorne 8 15 122 2 1 Brendan Flaherty 2 3 85 2 0 Jack Morency 1 3 11 0 0 Dom Abate 1 1 6 0 0 RECEIVING Player Rec. Yards TD Brendan Flaherty 10 236 4 Brenden McGee 7 111 2 Isaiah White 5 108 1 Dom Abate 5 68 2 Kenny Pierce 3 67 1 Ryan Shipp 2 28 1 Nick Manthorne 1 6 0