Mitchell boots Walpole into postseason
WALPOLE - As coach Barry Greener addressed Walpole at Turco Field, he declared that last night’s 16-13 victory over Natick would go down as one of the great Walpole wins in his 41 years of coaching.
“I’ve been here for a long time, two great teams went at it tonight,” Greener said. “We knew it was going to be a battle, and it lived up to its billing.”
Sophomore Connor Mitchell kicked a 25-yard field goal with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the 10th-ranked Rebels (9-1, 8-1) the Bay State Herget title and their fourth playoff appearance in six years. They play the winner of the Atlantic Coast League in the playoffs Nov. 29.
“I was just thinking ‘I have to get this through,’” Mitchell said, as he appeared to still be processing in his mind what had just happened. “I missed an extra-point earlier but hit the next one, and I just had to hit it.”
“He was nervous,” Greener said of his kicker. “He’s kicking 40-yarders consistently down the middle in practice, but that ain’t practice. So he was a little nervous, he hit a little high on the ball and luckily nobody got a hand up.”
The 14th-ranked Red and Blue (8-2, 7-2) had the ball deep in Rebel territory with under five minutes to play, but good coverage forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4, which led to Walpole’s 75-yard game-winning drive.
“Our offensive coordinator Billy O’Connell always calls a great game, but especially at the end called a great final drive,” Greener said. “I’ve said it for years, we have great position coaches and two great coordinators, that’s the secret to why we win.”
Defense was the name of the game for most of the night.
Constant pressure on quarterback Troy Flutie rendered the Red and Blue’s no-huddle spread offense ineffective and the Rebels were able to hold Natick to 31 yards of total offense in the first half. Craig Hanley scored the first of his two touchdowns with seven seconds remaining in the first quarter and Walpole entered halftime with a 6-0 lead.
The up-tempo approach did not catch the Rebels defense by surprise; they see plenty of it in practice.
“In the last four years, until this year, we were a no-huddle team,” Greener said. “Our kid’s have all seen it. That’s the way we try to practice, up-tempo. This was a slower pace than practice for us, this was no big deal.”
Flutie broke off a 53-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play drive to open the second half, but Ronnie Shepherd blocked Natick’s extra-point attempt to keep the score even at 6.
After Hanley’s second touchdown run, from 4 yards out, Flutie once again pulled the Red and Blue even with a 12-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Brian Dunlap in the back of the end zone.
“I thought honestly in the second half they outplayed us a little bit, but both teams had a lot of character,” Greener said. “But our guys kept fighting.”