The North Shore Patriots hoped to come home from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with an NFL Flag Football National Championship.
The Pats gave it their best shot, and even though a national title wasn't in the cards the team of 9-to 11-year-olds played hard and put up a fight.
The North Shore entry won one game at Central Broward Regional Park and enjoyed a wonderful weekend.
The Patriots were actually called the Jets for nationals because they won the New York Jets regional competition in Connecticut last fall to earn the trip. This marked the second year in a row coaches Danny Batista and Jonathan Riviera brought a group of North Shore youngsters to Florida.
"We play together a whole year, and work very hard to get to nationals," said Batista. "The competition there is very tough, and we were the second smallest team of the eight regional winners."
The NFL provided air fare and hotel accommodations at the Marriott Renaissance with plenty of fun-filled activities during the weekend.
"The kids had a great time; the whole weekend they had smiles on their faces," said Batista. "It's a difficult road to nationals. We had to go up against 26 other teams at regionals, and a year ago there were 40 teams we had to beat out."
The North Shore Patriots faced the Oakland Raiders regional winner in the first game, and found themselves down 21-0 at halftime. Quarterback Devon Foster threw to Jake Gustin for the lone touchdown in the 27-6 loss.
The local kids played much better in the next outing against the Arizona Cardinals. Noah Neville had a long touchdown reception after an interception by Gustin. They were very much in the game, down 7-6 but had trouble in the second half and lost, 21-6.
They won the final game of round-robin play against the New Orleans Saints.
Cameron Loizides of Peabody picked off a pass and returned it for an early touchdown. Salem's Glenn Perez did a great job pulling flags while Mathieu Severance of Peabody and Kevin Durant of Lynn made some long runs. Foster spread the ball around to Jalen Echevarria (Peabody), Gustin, and Neville. Right before halftime Foster threw a nifty TD pass to Neville for a 12-0 lead. Both Neville and Gustin, who were named co-MVPs for the team, ran for touchdowns in the second half of the 24-0 victory.
The Pats were seeded fifth and took on the fourth-seeded Cincinnati Bengals, who had the tallest player in the division. He rushed the quarterback on every play to cause havoc. Cincinnati went all the way to the finals before losing to the team from Hawaii.
The NFL held a banquet and awards ceremony for all the teams after the tournament. Before their flight home the North Shore coaches, players, and parents joined the contingent from Hawaii to root on the New England Patriots in the Saturday night nationally televised game against Denver.
"There were a lot of very good teams there," said Batista. "The national champs from Hawaii play year round as do the Florida teams. Our MVPs were on our team that went a year ago, and they showed a lot of heart. Both played well on offense and defense. We have two boys returning, and we want to go back again. It's a tough road to get there, and I'm very proud of every member of this team."