Game, set, rematch
Something’s got to give as Natick tackles Walpole
In many locker rooms, “one game at a time’’ is an oft-repeated mantra.
The Natick High football team is no exception, but after the way their season fizzled late last season, the Red and Blue have kept one Bay State Conference foe in the crosshairs all season.
Last fall, Natick sailed into its Herget Division showdown against Walpole unbeaten. The Red and Blue walked off their own field beaten, 21-9, their playoff hopes KO’d. That loss to the Rebels, who went on to capture the Division 2 Super Bowl, served as the backdrop for offseason workouts and the rallying point for this season.
The rematch is finally here, set for 1 p.m. Saturday in Walpole. And for the second year in a row, both teams head into it unbeaten at 9-0.
“It’s definitely motivating,’’ senior wide receiver Brett Flutie said. “They came into our field, wore us down, and took the game from us. It was frustrating. We feel like we’ve conditioned, worked as hard as ever, to get back to this point.’’
Another team captain, senior fullback/linebacker Brett Farrell, said he has been thinking about gaining revenge on Walpole ever since last season, “but you don’t want to say anything until now.
“I’ve thought about it everywhere - even when we play them in baseball . . . You walk around town this week, I’ve been asked maybe 100 times - ‘you gonna beat Walpole?’ ’’
The Red and Blue and the Rebels have been dominant this fall: Natick has outscored its foes 355-61, Walpole’s differential is 292-55. Against local Bay State Conference rivals Brookline, Needham, Newton North, and Wellesley, the numbers are more pronounced, with Natick’s edge 180-14, and Walpole’s 142-28.
Many high school teams kick off the season with visions of an undefeated campaign. But with the leaves off the trees and Thanksgiving Day fast approaching, only five local squads still have a shot at perfection, with Franklin, Marlborough, Holliston and Lawrence Academy in Groton joining Natick. And with the opportunity, a new mentality emerges.
Mounting pressure? Maybe.
The Natick-Walpole matchup features two of the state’s premier gamebreakers: UConn-bound quarterback Scott McCummings for Natick and scoring machine Ryan Izzo for Walpole.
But as the weeks wear on, and the wins pile up, teams continue to search out the next unsung player who’s going to step in and keep the streak going.
“There’s a constant battle, who carries our team? Defense or offense?’’ Farrell said.
One outside observer, Newton North head coach Peter Capodilupo, whose Tigers lost to Natick, 27-0, and Walpole, 28-14, thinks the Red and Blue might be “a little quicker’’ on defense, but that Walpole’s defense could be stronger.
“You think you’ve stopped McCummings two or three times in a row, then he reels off a big throw or a long run and makes you look defenseless,’’ Capodilupo said.
“Same with Izzo. You stop the counter, you stop the sweep, then all of a sudden he takes a screen pass 70 yards. Both have the ability to humble a defense very quickly. It’s the team that responds the best that will win the game.’’
But beating fierce rival Acton-Boxborough Regional, 7-0, last weekend for the second time in three years will certainly ease the pain. Lincoln-Sudbury avenged last season’s loss to the Colonials, a 15-6 setback in Sudbury that was sealed on a returned extra-point kick late in the game.
This time, the Warriors played spoiler, handing Acton-Boxborough its first Dual County League Large Division loss, while also denying Bill Maver his 200th career win at the helm of the Colonials.
It all adds up to one of the best non-Thanksgiving rivalries in these parts.
“I remember sophomore year, this was the most physical game we played,’’ said Lincoln-Sudbury senior lineman and captain Patrick Crosby, a three-year starter. “Last year it was really physical, this year it was really physical. It’s something about when we play A-B, they play us, things just get kind of chippy. We know each other, we go to camp together. It just gets more physical.’’
Brendan Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org