With incomparable Hughes, Nantucket back on the map
TAUNTON - There’s something strikingly obvious about watching Nantucket quarterback Taylor Hughes.
Two middle-aged men leaning against the fence during the Division 5 Super Bowl at Taunton High noticed it yesterday within minutes.
“Is it just me, or does he play exactly like Tim Tebow?’’ one man asked.
“He even looks like him,’’ the other man said.
And after Hughes picked apart the Latin Academy defense for 116 yards through the air and ran over linebackers to compile 121 yards on the ground, the observation was clear. When the whistle blew and Nantucket had cruised to a 35-7 victory in its first Super Bowl appearance since 1998, Hughes couldn’t walk off the field without being swarmed by teammates, coaches, reporters, and photographers.
Holding the championship trophy and the game ball, the Tebow comparison was an apt description for the 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound Hughes.
“He’s a quarterback who can throw it 70 yards in a fullback’s body who can run like a tailback,’’ said coach Bill Manchester, whose team finished 10-2. “Hello . . .
“Everyone keeps comparing him to Tim Tebow. But he’s better. Well, he throws better at least. He’s more accurate. He’s that talented.’’
“We knew that,’’ Latin Academy coach Rocco Zizza said. “We knew we had to stop him, we just couldn’t.’’
It didn’t take long for Hughes to display his Tebow-like running game, exploding for a 49-yard run to notch the game’s first touchdown. And when Hughes gets tired, Manchester turns to 6-foot senior Codie Perry to run the ball. Perry racked up 56 yards on 14 attempts, pairing with Hughes to establish the Whalers’ running attack early.
The Dragons (7-5) kept slipping more players into the box, and early in the second quarter, Hughes made them pay. Pinned inside his 15 yard-line, he dropped to pass and was quickly faced with a trio of defenders. While the quarterback evaded two tackles, senior Zachary Moran got open down the left sideline and Hughes put one in his chest. Moran sprinted down the field before being brought down for a 71-yard connection.
A few plays later, Perry slammed it into the end zone to put the Whalers up, 21-0.
“He’s a sweet guy, really smart, too,’’ Hughes said of Perry. “But once he gets on the field, he’s a totally different kid.’’
The following drive, the Dragons found some momentum. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Dance finally found some room to run and also connected on 20-yard pass with Shavar Lazarus as Latin Academy moved into the red zone.
But Hughes, who also plays defensive end, linebacker and safety, jumped a delayed handoff to push the Dragons back for a long fourth-down attempt that was not converted.
For a Nantucket program that three years ago was on the brink of getting eliminated when longtime coach Vito Capizzo stepped down after a winless season, the first Super Bowl title in 13 years was that much sweeter.
Hughes was the last person to walk off the field. Assistant coach Matt Erisman, who played quarterback for the Whalers eight years ago, ran to Hughes and handed him the game ball.
“Never let anyone take this from you,’’ Erisman said.
Hughes was the hero on the winning side of a championship game, and once again, the Tebow comparison was irresistible.
“I have to say, Taylor’s mechanics are better,’’ Erisman said. “When Taylor runs the ball, he runs like Tim Tebow. But when he passes, it’s like a pocket passer. He’ll be a steal for some college. Someone is going to get a great player – guaranteed.’’