By Phil Stacey
---- — BURLINGTON — Sheer dominance.
There’s a reason why the Beverly High football team is 12-0 for the first time in school history and will be playing for its second Super Bowl championship in three seasons Saturday afternoon: when the stakes are at their highest, the Panthers simply rise above all challengers and crush the competition.
Trailing by a point at halftime, the Orange-and-Black completely dictated the final 20 minutes of play in last night’s Division 2A playoff semifinal against host Burlington High. They were ferocious in owning the trenches up front and got a monster 251-yard, 4-touchdown rushing performance from senior captain Brendan Flaherty to prevail, 34-21, in a swirling snow before more than 4,000 fans.
“Nothing changed for us at halftime; we were sticking to our game plan. We just wanted to pull away from them in the second half,” said Flaherty, who singed the Red Devils by running the trap and belly plays to perfection. His 251 yards — giving him 1,321 on the season — came on just 13 carries. He also was involved in nearly a dozen tackles from his post at free safety. “We stepped it up and fought through that (first half) adversity.
“This feeling is so great for all the work we’ve done all season to get to this point. For us seniors, it’s especially sweet.”
The Panthers will look to make history Saturday afternoon when they meet Natick — a 38-33 winner over Plymouth South in last night’s other sectional semifinal — for the Division 2A Super Bowl crown Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. No Beverly High team, dating back to 1891, has ever won this many games in a season, let alone finish 13-0.
“The seniors weren’t ready to pack it up tonight,” said Beverly captain Marc Babcock, who anchored the offensive line at left guard. “It was man-up time — and we manned up big time.”
The game turned around completely in Beverly’s favor in the third quarter, where everything seemed to come together in perfect harmony: terrific blocking, both at the point of attack and downfield after the play had evolved; outstanding running by Flaherty, junior Isiah White (109 yards on 4 carries) and captain Kenny Pierce (50 yards on 5 carries, including a TD); and a lockdown effort by the entire defense, especially when Burlington had to convert but the Panthers wouldn’t let them.
Oddly enough, it all began with a punt return.
Foreshadowing their penchant for making big plays in the second half, Beverly forced a 3-and-out on the opening drive of the second half after a long Burlington kickoff return. The ensuing punt was caught by Flaherty at his own 23-yard line, and he broke/escaped/slithered out of no less than eight potential tackles while electrifying the largely pro-Beverly crowd on his 44-yard return.
Setting up shop the Red Devils’ 33-yard line, the Panthers needed just two plays to take the lead for good as Pierce went to his right, cut back inside and scored from 28 yards out for a 19-14 lead.
Burlington (10-2) then marched the football downfield, using 13 plays and almost six minutes off the clock before they faced 4th-and-4 from the Beverly 7. Quarterback Shane Farley hit Jirair Manoukian with a swing pass in the left flat, but Pierce came up from his spot at cornerback and drilled him for a 3-yard loss.
Wasting no time, White promptly ran for 22 yards to the Burlington 32, followed by a Flaherty inside handoff that went for 47 yards down to the Red Devils’ 4-yard line before the 6-foot-1, 185-pound captain took it in himself from 4 yards out. Flaherty’s third touchdown of the night, plus the ensuing Dave Rollins-to-Brendan McGee 2-point pass, gave the Panthers a 27-14 lead.
“The line play was unbelievable, and the downfield blocking, once we were into that second level, was huge,” said Beverly coach Dan Bauer, whose team finished with 419 yards rushing on just 32 carries, a remarkable average of over 13 yards per carry. “And Brendan ... he played like a man possessed.”
Beverly wasn’t finished, either. After another 3-and-out by Burlington, the Panthers went 92 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 61-yard scamper by White before Flaherty again hit paydirt, this time from 27 yards out and a 34-14 lead with 5:55 to play.
“We just didn’t tackle well,” said Burlington coach Shawn Maguire. “We were hitting (Flaherty) at the line, but not wrapping up. He’s a strong runner; you need to wrap him up and we didn’t.”
“We came out with one goal in mind in the second half: finish the job. I’d say we did that,” said senior lineman Brian Perry. “We’ve done that in the second half of a few close games this season, like against Winthrop and Masconomet, and this was no different. We came out with more heart and focus.”
And now, that heart and focus has the Panthers back where they hoped they’d be when practices officially began back in August: playing for a state championship at Gillette on December 1.
Division 2A playoff semifinals
Beverly 34, Burlington 21
at Varsity Field, Burlington High
Beverly (12-0) 7 6 14 7 — 34
Burlington (10-2) 7 7 0 7 — 21
Bev-Brendan Flaherty 38 run (Harry Brown kick)
Burl-Marcus Odiah 9 run (Christopher Arria kick)
Bev-Brendan Flaherty 2 run (kick blocked)
Burl-Anthony Cruz 3 run (Arria kick)
Bev-Kenny Pierce 28 run (rush failed)
Bev-Flaherty 4 run (Brendan McGee pass from Dave Rollins)
Bev-Flaherty 27 run (Brown kick)
Burl-Harrison Smoske 37 pass from Shane Farley (Arria kick)
RUSHING: Beverly — Brendan Flaherty 13-251, Isiah White 4-109, Kenny Pierce 5-50, Dave Rollins 3-5, Dom Abate 3-4; Burlington — Marcus Odiah 16-96, Anthony Cruz 19-66, Christopher Arria 4-18, Shane Farley 3-(-22).
PASSING: Beverly — Rollins 0-4-0-0-1; Burlington — Farley 9-13-94-1-0.
RECEIVING: Beverly — None; Burlington — Harrison Smoske 4-74, Odiah 1-17, Cruz 2-2, Jirair Manoukian 2-1.