MIDDLETON — North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie head coach Paul Worth believes this is the biggest backfield his football team has ever had.
After Saturday’s 33-8 win over Tri-County, the Bulldogs showed the rest of Division 6 that the size of their backs may not even be their biggest strength.
Tailback Ross Murphy and sophomore fullback Mike Neurnberg both bolted for long touchdown runs and, with Dan Bailey also in the mix, the Bulldogs have three backs who are all home run threats that opposing Div. 6 teams will have to defend against.
Murphy’s game-breaking ability was to be expected coming into the season, but it was Neurnberg that really opened eyes, dropped jaws and caught opposing head coach Anthony Mazzola and his Cougars off guard.
“For a young kid, he’s a big load,” Mazzola said of Nuernberg. “I didn’t think he’d be as quick as he was. We knew he was strong, but we didn’t realize he was that quick.”
After Nuernberg rushed for a 4-yard touchdown on the Bulldogs’ opening drive, Murphy broke off a 72-yard touchdown run with a nice cutback at the second level to put his club up, 13-0. Then, on the second play of the third quarter, Nuernberg took a quick dive and broke 47 yards up the middle for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
Murphy led all rushers with 165 yards on 16 carries while Nuernberg, who dragged Tri-County tacklers all afternoon, finished with 125 yards on just seven carries.
Nuernberg was just one of a handful of sophomores that stepped up in their first game action, including linemen Bryan Raustad and Brent Campbell.
“A lot of sophomores grew up today,” explained Worth. “That shows great promise. We had three sophomores on the line who did a super job. It can go either way in the first game, but now the kids have a building block.”
Not to get lost in the shuffle was quarterback Ian LaFavour, who had 30 tough yards rushing on six carries and showed he can run over opposing tacklers. The senior signal caller also completed his only pass of the day: a 24-yard touchdown to Yordany Sanchez with just over 30 seconds left in the first half.
Sanchez, meanwhile, made his presence felt in the return game, where the junior speedster is most deadly. After Cougars quarterback Matt Donovan connected with Anthony Profetto on an 18-yard TD-pass to cut the lead to 25-8 in the fourth quarter, Sanchez took the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the house.
It was another example of the Bulldogs executing better than their opponents, which was surprising considering the Cougars have 18 seniors on the roster while the hosts were starting a bunch of sophomores.
“I didn’t expect us to execute the way we did,” admitted Worth. “I’m proud of the young guys. We came to play.”
Defensively, NST/EA did have a couple of miscues but overall the unit got stingier in the big moments. The Bulldogs stopped the Cougars twice on fourth down and short — including once down by the goal line.
The secret to the success for the defense is Bailey, the middle linebacker who had a pair of tackles for a loss, including a huge hit in the backfield on Evan Sheehan on a third-and-goal play from the 1. The two-way player for the Bulldogs battled cramps all afternoon but remained a force.
“I think we’re going to live and die defensively with Bailey,” explained Worth. “He has instincts I can’t coach. He’s tough and he plays sideline to sideline. He reads keys well and he’s a tough nut.”
Raustad was a force no Cougar could control rushing off the left edge; Donovan threw a majority of his passes rolling to his right and Raustad was in his face all game — sometimes beating a double team to do so. Senior Andrew Moles also got after Donovan, twice sacking the Tri-County QB coming off the right edge.