WAKEFIELD — It was a grind-it-out game Saturday afternoon when Whittier visited Northeast. It’s fitting the outcome would come down to a final possession.
A crucial fourth-down stop gave Whittier the opportunity to go ahead for the first time and board the bus as 18-16 victors in its Commonwealth Large opener.
“Its tough to come into Northeast and leave with a win,” said Whittier coach Kevin Bradley, “They’ve won our league three years in a row and us the three years prior. Its always a good one.”
With under two minutes left in the game, Whittier (4-1) put the ball in sophomore quarterback Connor Bradley’s hands and he ran with it.
Propelled by a pair of big plays by Bradley, the coach’s son, and senior receiver Justin Reyes, Whittier was set up with a first down within the red zone. On third and 10, Bradley scrambled away from pressure and was able to find Jaylin Deveau. Deveau caught the pass at the 5-yard line, eluded two would-be tacklers and sneaked just inside the left pylon to give Whittier its only lead of the game.
“It was a big stop for us,” said Bradley. “We were able to do it again in the final minutes.”
The Knights were in control most of the game, striking first late in the first half. Quarterback Troy Tartarini took the ball on the option 62 yards up the left sideline for a touchdown.
Whittier scored in the final minute of the first half. Bradley hooked up with tight end Brandon Lyons on a play-action pass for a 67-yard score. The difference at the half was a successful 2-point conversion by the Knights, 8-6.
The Knights, who won last year’s meeting 28-6, appeared to have a stranglehold on the game, entering the fourth quarter up by two possessions.
Kenny Bartolo was able to rumble off the right tackle for a 3-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 16-6 after another successful 2-point conversion.
“We just never stopped,” said Bradley. “It shows how much will we have.”
The Wildcats continued to fight into the fourth when they finally broke through with their second score. Bradley, who threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns, found Reyes, who ran a post corner to the back right pylon to shrink the lead to 16-12.
“They’re a great team,” said Bradley, whose team faces Chelsea Friday.
“It’s always a hard-hitting game with the two of us. Back and forth for years. We came out with it today.”
The win leaves defending champion Shawsheen and Whittier atop the Commonwealth Large standings, but with much work to be done. But if you want to look ahead, the teams meet Nov. 3 in Haverhill.
Northeast (3-2) travels to Manchester Essex Friday.