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.