BURLINGTON — Beverly senior running back Brendan Flaherty spoke low, his words coming through the chin strap resting over his lips. His team had just beaten Burlington, 34-21, to advance to the Division 2A Super Bowl, but he showed none of the elation of his surrounding teammates.
Maybe he was conserving energy. It had been a busy night. Flaherty’s 256 yards and four touchdowns on 18 carries boosted the Panthers back to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
“Feels great,” Flaherty said. “It’s what you work for all season. We didn’t make the playoffs last year, so that was constantly in our minds all year and in the offseason. It’s awesome to be back.”
Beverly (12-0) used 21 unanswered points in the second half to distance itself from Burlington (10-2), which led at halftime, 14-13.
Flaherty’s bruising 47-yard punt return early in the third quarter set up the Panthers with good field position at Burlington’s 32-yard line, and two plays later, senior running back Kenny Pierce broke free for a 28-yard touchdown.
Pierce came up with another big play about six minutes later. With the Red Devils on the Beverly 7-yard line, Burlington coach Shawn Maguire decided to go for it on fourth and 4. Burlington quarterback Shane Farley’s screen pass to Jirair Manoukian was snuffed out immediately by Pierce for a 3-yard loss.
“Nobody came to my side for about three seconds into the play,” Pierce said. “I think I just read it well . . . I knew the quarterback was going to turn around and throw it. It was just instinct.”
The Panthers drove 90 yards in three plays — a 39-yard run by junior Isaiah White, a 47-yard run by Flaherty, and a 4-yard scoring run by Flaherty — to seize control of the game.
“That’s a huge momentum swing,” said Beverly coach Dan Bauer. “It’s a killer. That gave us a cushion so we could breathe a little bit.”
Beverly’s offensive line continued to open up holes throughout the second half, allowing the Panthers to rush for 252 yards in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Flaherty’s 27-yard score with 5½ minutes left in the fourth quarter made the score 34-14 and all but punched Beverly’s ticket for its matchup with Natick (11-1) Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Farley hit receiver Harrison Smoske on a 37-yard touchdown with four minutes left for Burlington’s final score.
The Red Devils kept pace in the first half with their two workhorse running backs.
Responding to Flaherty’s two first-half touchdowns, seniors Marcus Odiah (from 9 yards out) and Anthony Cruz (from 3 yards out) scored to give Burlington its slim lead at the break.
Though it was a resounding win for Beverly on a cold, rainy night in a hostile environment, Bauer understood his senior captain’s muted celebration afterward. There was more work to be done.
“The seniors, obviously they’re very excited for this,” Bauer said. “But obviously they’ve got a big game on Saturday, so we’ll see what happens.”