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Cathedral 12, Chelsea 10

Bermudez answers Cathedral’s prayer

Carlos Bermudez, the 5-foot-5-inch hero of Cathedral’s victory, was the center of attention after he returned a punt 70 yards for a TD as time expired. Carlos Bermudez, the 5-foot-5-inch hero of Cathedral’s victory, was the center of attention after he returned a punt 70 yards for a TD as time expired. (Brian feulner/for the globe)
By Lorenzo Recupero
Globe Correspondent / November 30, 2011
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READING - Standing just 5 feet 5 inches and weighing 155 pounds, Carlos Bermudez was the smallest player on the field, but it’s safe to say his 70-yard punt return was the biggest play in Cathedral football history.

Facing Chelsea (6-5), which was in its first playoff game since 1995, the Panthers showed championship resilience, pulling off a come-from-behind, 12-10 Eastern Mass playoff victory on Bermudez’s do-or-die return as time expired. The win propelled Cathedral (11-0) to the Division 4A Super Bowl, the school’s first.

“Believe it or not, we watched ‘Rocky III’ before we came, in which Rocky lost and had to come back,’’ said first-year Cathedral coach Duane Sigsbury, whose team trailed, 7-0, at intermission. “And we said, ‘Hey, we might get a couple punches but we’ve got to come back.’ As corny as it may sound, we talked about it at halftime and these kids never gave up.’’

Sigsbury said he was shocked when Chelsea punted the ball with 13 seconds left holding a 4-point lead.

“We have skilled kids, and if they catch it in the air they have a chance to score,’’ he said.

Bermudez, a wide receiver, knew before the punt sailed toward him at the 30-yard line, exactly what the return meant for him, his team, and his school.

“I knew it was going to be a touchdown, soon as I caught it,’’ he said.

“I actually thought it was a bad idea [the punt], but they took the chance and punted it to me and I took advantage of that. Touchdown, championship, and flashbacks of everything we went through the whole season. It just hit me, I had to score. I had to score.’’

The senior said he could see the play unfold as he found his stride at midfield.

“At first, I saw No. 33 Gee Griffith block for me, an amazing block, one man down,’’ Bermudez said. “Derek Welcome, another man down. Mohammed Braihmah, another man down. Sage Philips, another man down. I kept on running and got the punt return for a touchdown.’’

Bermudez’s touchdown was the Panthers’ second in less than two minutes. Griffith scored on an option pitch from quarterback Matt Owens from 4 yards with 1:39 to play.

Before that, the Panthers turned the ball over five times, as Chelsea looked poised to take the win with a stifling defense, led by senior Anthony Arroyo (two interceptions, fumble recovery).

Senior Juan Martinez put his best foot forward for Chelsea, rushing for the game’s first points in the second quarter on a bruising 76-yard stampede through the middle of Cathedral’s defense.

Martinez also kicked a 33-yard field goal to give his team a 10-point lead with 6:26 to play.

Cathedral advanced to play Blue Hills in the Super Bowl Saturday.

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