ACTON - Walpole cornerback Billy Hickey was just watching the feet, waiting for the receiver and the momentum to turn.
He was waiting for Melrose's Michael Fimiani to hitch. The ball, he figured, would be there.
When it came, courtesy of Melrose quarterback Dale Parsons, Hickey let his chest gobble it up, and then he ran 23 yards to the end zone.
"It's one of those things you dream about," said Hickey, the Rebels' senior captain.
It was one of two interceptions by Hickey, the first and biggest play in what went from 3-point lead to 16-point rout.
Walpole's 30-14 win over Melrose in the EMass Division 2 semifinals last night sent it to the Super Bowl Saturday. The Rebels will meet Bishop Feehan at Gillette Stadium, and they can thank Hickey for setting up the date.
"He's got the biggest heart in the world," said coach Danny Villa. "I've had the kid for three years, and each year he just keeps getting better. His leadership this year was absolutely phenomenal."
Hickey's first interception was a rally killer, and then he hawked a ball on the next possession that sustained the Rebels' momentum.
A play after the second pick, Walpole running back Ryan Izzo slipped through the defense for 37 yards down to the 16, then ate the rest of the yards for his second touchdown of the game.
Izzo, just a sophomore, ran for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
"He's a stud," said Hickey, one of Walpole's few seniors.
Before the season, Hickey was charged with taking the sophomores under his wing. Looking at Izzo's performance, he said they made it easy.
"Some of the stuff he does I can't even believe," Hickey said. "He's 15 years old."
As big as Izzo's touchdown runs were, his field goal at the end of the first half was critical, with Melrose having cut into a 14-0 lead with a 3-yard scoring run by Jack Pizzotti. Izzo's kick made it 17-7 at the half.
"It's points," said Villa. "It's better getting 3 than [none]. It still gave us the confidence that we were able to keep plugging away and know that if we keep playing we know we're going to be all right."
Melrose made it 17-14 on a 32-yard run by Ryan Webster, but momentum, of course, is fickle.
After Walpole went three-and-out the next possession, Parsons dropped back. "The kid made a hell of a break on the ball," said Red Raiders coach Tim Morris of Hickey's INT.
"You play to win," said Morris. "It's not the result you want. These are great high school kids that come out and play hard every day. We're all going to get up tomorrow. I said we're Middlesex [League] champions. Nobody thought you'd be in this game back in August. You've accomplished a lot."
Still, every so often, his eyes wandered. He would glance briefly but intently at the other end of the field, where Walpole's huddle was large and loud, where Villa raved about the cornerback he'd coached for years, where that cornerback clutched the game ball like the interceptions and held it tightly all the way to the team bus.