BURLINGTON — Momentum is a snowball resting at the top of a hill.
All it takes is a little push for that snowball to begin its descent down, gathering size and speed along the way. For most high school football teams, those hills are bunny slopes. For Beverly, it’s a mountain with a pitch comparable to Everest.
Last night at Burlington High Varsity Field in a Division 2A playoff matchup, senior defensive back Kenny Pierce provided the push, and an avalanche ensued.
A critical one-on-one tackle in a fourth down situation by Pierce was quickly turned into points to help the Panthers pull away from Burlington in a 34-21 victory.
“That (tackle) was huge because we knew it would be a defensive game coming in here,” Beverly’s Brendan Flaherty said. “Whoever made the most stops was going to win the game because we both had great offenses. That play was huge and carried a lot of momentum. We really took advantage.”
For 20 minutes the game was a back-and-forth affair between two high-powered offenses. After Pierce had given Beverly a 19-14 lead early in the third quarter, Burlington embarked on a long drive that seemed destined to swing the pendulum back in its favor.
The Red Devils advanced to the Beverly 7-yard line, but on the 13th play they needed to pick up four yards on fourth down to keep the drive alive. Burlington coach Shawn Maguire called for a back-side screen with junior quarterback Shane Farley rolling out to his right, then throwing back to senior tight end Jarair Manoukian.
Pierce never bit on the fake. Instead, he charged forward and dropped Manoukian for a 3-yard loss.
“I was just sitting there and saw him go out,” Pierce said. “I just turned around and sprinted because I knew the quarterback was going to turn around and throw him the ball.”
It was the defensive stop Beverly needed, and it immediately put a charge into the Panthers offense.
On the very next play, junior running back Isaiah White, who had negative-1 yards on one carry up to that point, broke a 39-yard run to get the Panthers close to midfield. Flaherty followed with a 47-yard gain, then scored from 4 yards out. Beverly added the conversion when Dave Rollins connected with tight end Brendan McGee, making it at least a 14-point swing in less than a minute.
“Unbelievable. That’s a huge momentum swing. It’s a killer,” Beverly coach Dan Bauer said. “That gave us a cushion. We could breathe a little bit, and it got them out of some of the things that they do well.”
Burlington, which had tremendous success running the ball with Marcus Odiah and Anthony Cruz through three quarters, suddenly found itself in a deep hole against an offense that was only beginning to hit its stride.
Beverly built a reputation all season as a team that could attack from many angles out of the backfield. The Red Devils seemed determined to limit the Panthers’ outside running game in the first half, but Flaherty (251 yards rushing for the game) accumulated 139 yards working almost exclusively between the tackles.
Overall, the Panthers only managed 161 yards as a team before intermission.
The energy created from Pierce’s defensive play appeared to carry over to the offense.
“I think that was the key play,” White said. “I’m actually honored that coach gave me the ball on that play. That (tackle) actually really helped us and we were able to move the ball down the field.”
After Flaherty’s touchdown put the Panthers ahead by two scores, Beverly forced a three-and-out and quickly scored again, this time with Flaherty scoring from 27 yards. At that point, Beverly was in complete control with a 34-14 advantage.
“As long as we get the ball back to the offense, that’s our key,” Pierce said about Beverly’s defense. “Just get stops, get the ball back to the offense, and let them do their thing.”
Matt Jenkins is a staff writer at The Salem News. You can contact him at 978-338-2648, MJenkins@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.