FOXBOROUGH - None of the demons of recent playoff futility could hold back Manchester Essex. They were sent home in the playoff semifinals the last two seasons, and lost back-to-back Super Bowls in 2002 and 2003.
But the past has passed. The Hornets were just too good in 2008 - securing an undefeated season and a Division 4 championship by defeating Tri-County, 36-6, yesterday at Gillette Stadium.
Quarterback Pat Orlando was at the helm for two postseason losses, but he went out on top, completing 9 of 13 passes for 172 yards, and capturing that elusive trophy.
When asked what being undefeated meant, Orlando said, "everything," and praised Manchester's performance. "I wasn't touched," he said. "I didn't get sacked all day. The receivers ran awesome routes and everyone was just connecting."
"We just wanted to go out and execute our offense the way we have all season," said coach Mike Athanas. "We executed well from the beginning. They were ready to go."
Manchester Essex (13-0) wasted no time putting points on the board - its specialty this season (the Hornets averaged 37.4 points, best in Eastern Massachusetts).
After forcing Tri-County to go three-and-out on its first drive, the Hornets marched 59 yards, scoring on Ben Kekeisen's 11-yard run. The junior broke several tackles and muscled into the end zone.
Orlando showcased his skills on Manchester's second drive. After breaking for a shifty, 20-yard gain into Tri-County territory, the senior connected with Doug Kenerson for a 33-yard touchdown that the receiver briefly bobbled.
Tri-County cocaptain Lucas Mistler answered with a 44-yard touchdown pass to senior Jared Gaumond to cut Manchester's lead to 15-6 in the first quarter.
Tri-County's ability to bounce back, especially the seniors, was a sight coach Dan MacLean became accustomed to.
"They just don't give up," he said. "They just fight and fight and they have so much heart. They just want to win and I can't say enough about them."
Tri-County (9-3), feisty spirit and all, couldn't quell Manchester's attack. In the second quarter, the Hornets went 63 yards in seven plays, capped by Orlando's second connection to Kenerson, an 11-yard touchdown that gave Manchester a 22-6 lead.
Manchester's Brian Ciccone ended the next two Tri-County drives by intercepting passes. The running back/linebacker finished with a game-high 68 rushing yards, scored a touchdown in the third quarter, kicked four extra points, and ran for a 2-point conversion.
The Hornets squeezed in another score before the half as Orlando found Kekeisen for a 16-yard touchdown.
In the second half, Orlando hit Ciccone for a 44-yard gain, bringing Manchester Essex to the 1-yard line. Ciccone then rammed it in to complete the scoring.
"Winning here, this is just a special day," said Athanas, who won his first championship in his fifth year with Manchester. The school's last Super Bowl win came in 1999, when Manchester/Rockport defeated O'Bryant, 12-6.
Tri-County reached the playoffs for the first time in school history.
"Tri-County has never really been on the map," MacLean said. "I told the kids, 'You know what? You're getting found now.' Not too many people get to play at Gillette Stadium and that's a tribute to them."
After starting the season 1-2, Tri-County won eight straight games en route to Foxborough. "I was hoping we could turn things around and we really did," MacLean said. "I'm so proud of the kids."
On the field where the New England Patriots went unbeaten last season, Manchester Essex emulated perfection - and added a championship.
"This was the perfect way to end my season and my high school career," said Orlando.