Watching the final play of the Division 2A Super Bowl from the sideline was not where Beverly High senior Kenny Pierce wanted to be, but after everything, he probably deserved a little break.
A late injury sent Pierce off the field. He didn’t head to the sideline without doing his usual damage.
Pierce ended the season with a masterful performance, scoring his team’s first two touchdowns against Natick on runs of 27 and 4 yards, respectively. He finished with 71 yards on just seven carries, consistent with the average he put up all season when tucking the football under his arm.
He certainly made the most of his touches, scoring 15 rushing touchdowns on just 72 carries; that means he hit paydirt more than 20 percent of the time his number was called. Pierce finished the season with 901 rushing yards (a ridiculous 12.5 yards per carry) and ended his career with 2,075 rushing yards on 217 carries (9.42 YPC) and 28 TDs.
He may have been known for his offense, but Pierce was also an integral part of the defensive secondary. Although it was Ryan Shipp and Dom Abate who came up with some big pass breakups on Saturday against Natick, Pierce also made his presence felt.
Pierce did an excellent job keeping the Natick receivers in front of him, then stepping up and wrapping up, not letting the Redhawks gain any extra yardage.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: the combined record of Beverly’s 13 opponents this fall was 79-66 (.545 winning percentage); those same squads were a combined 48-30 (.615) when they took on the Panthers.
Naturally, Burlington (10-2) and Natick (11-3) bumped those figures up considerably. Factoring in just their regular season foes, the Panthers matched up teams with a combined 58-62 record; 27-28 when they played BHS.
The Panthers came up just 13 yards shy of finishing with 5,000 yards of offense this fall, an absurd amount for a high school football team. They averaged 383.6 yards per game, with 88 percent of those yards coming via the ground game (4,392).
In the middle of speaking with reporters after the game, Beverly head coach Dan Bauer pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of an inside jacket pocket and showed an e-mail he had received earlier in the day. It was from the granddaughter of Beverly High Hall of Famer Gordon Winchester (BHS Class of 1935), a 96-year-old ardent follower of the football team who was unable to make it to Saturday’s Super Bowl. Still, he wanted it known that he wished the team luck.
Beverly ended up shutting out their opponents in 33 of 52 quarters played in 2012. Natick was the only team to score in three quarters against them, putting up seven points in the first, third and fourth quarters.
The Panthers finished with a school record 472 points scored and an average of 36.2 points per game.
One final look at Brendan Flaherty, one of the greatest players to ever wear the Beverly High uniform:
In two playoff games, Flaherty ran for 426 yards and six touchdowns on just 43 carries, averaging 9.9 yards a carry.
He finished his senior season with 1,496 rushing yards and a school record 18 rushing touchdowns on 160 carries (9.35 yards per carry). He also led the Panthers in receptions (10), receiving yardage (236) and receiving TDs (4).
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder finished the season with 160 points, the most ever by a Beverly player in one year.
His 30 carries against the Redhawks Saturday were a career high.
In two career games at Gillette Stadium, No. 33 had four touchdowns (2 receiving vs. Somerset in 2010, 2 rushing this past Saturday vs. Natick).
Flaherty’s final career numbers: 3,503 rushing yards and 41 TDs on 423 carries; 719 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 38 receptions; 127 yards passing and two touchdowns on 3-of-4 pass attempts; 4,349 yards of total offense.
He will graduate as the Orange-and-Black’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (41), total touchdowns (61) and points (380) while his rushing yards trail only Pat Bailey (3,684 yards, but with 84 more carries in his career).
This marks the fourth unbeaten, untied team in Beverly High football history. Each of the three previous squads (1949, 1960 and 1964) all finished 9-0-0.
It became something of a given for the Panthers during the course of the season, but Harry Brown was again automatic on all four of his extra point attempts against Natick while also booming several kickoffs deep inside the 10-yard line.
Senior cornerback Shipp, who had two of Beverly’s biggest defensive plays Saturday, felt he was focused throughout the final game of his career.
“I got my reads all the way. Their wide receivers were very quick, but I was able to stay with them,” the 17-year-old Shipp said of Natick’s wideouts. “That and I was able to watch (quarterback Troy Flutie’s) eyes, too. I was able to get good jumps and stay with my man.”
“The defensive backs stepped up so big. Shippy played out of his mind,” said hulking senior lineman Mike Dooling.
It was Shipp who stripped Natick’s Justin Robinson with a touchdown-saving stop on the Beverly 2-yard line midway through the second quarter before falling on the fumble himself in the end zone for a touchback. He also soared high into the night sky to tip away a Flutie pass bound for the near corner of the end zone with just seconds to play.
Called ‘Ship-Dog’ by his teammates — “he literally barks at guys across the line from him,” said teammate Brian Perry — Shipp was thrilled with the final result.
“Knowing that it’s all over now (stinks), but we finished 13-0 and made history. So I’m happy,” said Shipp.
Did you realize that the Panthers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in seven of Bauer’s 10 seasons in Beverly? They include Flaherty in 2010 (1,274 yards), Rashad Sims (1,174 in 2008), Greg Pierce (1,648 in 2007), the aforementioned Bailey(1,498 in 2006 and 1,363 in 2005) and Eddie O’Reilly (1,137 in 2003).
Beverly offensive coordinator Roger Day admitted that “the kids talked us into it” when the Panthers decided to go for it, rather than punt, when they faced 4th and 3 from their own 48-yard line with less than three minutes to play and the Orange-and-Black holding onto a seven-point lead.
Using an unbalanced line, Beverly chose to give Flaherty a quick pitch out of the fullback spot and he delivered, busting through the Natick defense for five yards and a first down.
Following that play (Beverly was a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth down attempts Saturday), Flaherty carried the ball four of his team’s final six plays, gaining 7, 10, 2 and 28 yards, respectively.
Ben Goodhue, another one of Beverly’s assistants and the one the players would most likely (jokingly, of course) refer to as a drill sergeant for his killer workouts, yelled happily to the team after they accepted the Division 2A championship trophy: “You still hate those 6 a.m. workouts now?”
“He never let up on us — and that was good,” said captain Marc Babcock. “There were days where you’d didn’t want to get up (early) and out of bed to work out, but it all was worth it.”
Added tight end Brendan McGee, “Coach had us running 150-yard shuttles in the dark after the Salem game. It was pitch black, the end of practice, and you could still hear his whistle and him saying, ‘Come on, let’s go, we’re not done yet!’ He really had us get after it all the time.”
One of the many unsung heroes who drew high praise after Saturday’s Super Bowl win was senior Kevin Kennedy, the left tackle who was a punishing force on many of the Panthers’ best runs of the day.
“He’s our most underrated kid; it’s not even close,” said McGee, who at times lined up next to Kennedy at tight end. “He works as hard as he can all the time.”
“He was our most consistent guy in the line, no question,” added Babcock.
With a stellar first season as a starting inside linebacker now behind him, junior Sean Winston had one of the great quotes in the postgame hysteria.
“I was all business out there (Saturday). I made that field mine,” said the 17-year-old Winston.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world, to be part of history.”
While Bauer acknowledged it was no coincidence his players reaped what they sowed this season — “they worked extremely hard and deserved all of this,” — he also pointed to his entire coaching staff as a huge part of the Panther equation.
Jeff Hutton, Joel Belmonte, Mark Thomas, Jack Jones, Bruce Doig, Jeff Munroe, Dave Wilbur, Anthony Nardella, John Pynchon, Goodhue and Day.
“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Bauer said.
BEVERLY (13-0, Division 2A Super Bowl champions) RUSHING Player Att. Yards TDs Brendan Flaherty 160 1,496 18 Kenny Pierce 72 901 15 Isaiah White 94 862 6 Luke McDonald 35 286 3 Dom Abate 51 274 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 11 15 0 Peter Reusch 2 5 0 Zach Duguid 1 2 0 PASSING Player Cmp. Att. Yds TDs INTs Dave Rollins 23 54 400 7 2 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 Brendan 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