FOXBORO, Mass. – Defense has always been a strength for the King Philip program under head coach Brian Lee, but the Warriors have rarely faced an offense as dynamic and as talented as Catholic Memorial.
The Warriors (9-3) accomplished something no other team had this season, holding the Knights scoreless through the opening 12 minutes of Thursday night’s Div. 2 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, but it is nearly impossible to keep CM off the board for long. The Knights grabbed the lead before halftime and used big plays to break the game open in the second half, en route to a 42-18 victory.
“Once you get behind by more than you’re comfortable with then you can’t do what you want to do and be patient,” Lee explained. “We had a couple plays that really hurt but you’ve got to be able to overcome that and against them it’s so hard. You have to play perfect and you’ve got to keep pressure on the whole time and it’s a lot to do.”
Lee was also vocal about his team, which was making its fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last six years, going up against a school that can pull players from a wide area. While school population means that CM actually opted up two divisions to compete in D2, Lee argued that there remains a talent gap that public schools will struggle to overcome.
“I’ll play any team, anywhere, anything like that, but does that look like that’s apples and apples?” Lee asked. “You’ve got to fix it. We have to play with kids who were in Cub Scouts together and they choose to stay, play hard, and work hard, but there’s just no way to close that gap. We can’t work hard enough. I can’t bring them in at four in the morning in the off-season to make them that good.”
CM got the ball to start the game and went to work in the running game, behind junior Carson Harwood (16 carries, 135 yards) and junior BC-commit Datrell Jones (nine carries, 95 yards). After Jake Sullivan and Sean King stuffed a third and four play at the 41, Hunter Hastings pressured CM quarterback JC Petrongolo, who slipped for a nine-yard loss.
This time, CM was able to get bigger chunks and deep into KP territory. Harwood broke a 13-yard run on the first play and Petrongolo (7-of-14, 137 yards) hit Jaedn Skeete (three catches, 103 yards) for 21. Crawford Cantave was able to bring down bruising fullback Kyle King three yards short of the goal line and on fourth down Sullivan forced a Harwood fumble that was recovered by Luke Danson in the end zone.
After picking up a crucial turnover, KP tried to convert it into points. On third and eight, Grant (14-of-22, 175 yards) connected with Brewster for 26 out to midfield. Rudy Gately (19 carries, 79 yards) started to go to work behind KP’s big offensive line. Grant was able to get just enough on fourth and one to keep the drive going, but on third down at the CM 11 he was unable to find an open Brewster in the back of the end zone. Matthew Kelley booted a 28-yard field goal to put KP on top.
The momentum from the opening score disappeared quickly. After Jones broke a 19-yard run, Petrongolo hit Kole Osinubi in stride on a deep slant for a 51-yard touchdown. Following a KP punt, CM got the ball back with 2:47 left in the half and proceeded to add to its lead. This time Petrongolo used a quick snap and threw a perfectly weighted pass to Matthew Rios for a 14-yard score.
KP had played well, used a lot of clock, and found itself down 14-3 at the break.
The Warriors got the ball to open the second half and missed another opportunity to put points on the board. After combining on a completion earlier in the drive for a first down, Grant rolled out to the near sideline and fired a third down pass on the run to a wide open Brewster, who had snuck behind the coverage but was unable haul it in.
Grant’s punt pinned CM back at its own seven, but Jones broke free for a 44-yard run that got the Knights into KP’s half after just two plays. Illegal motion wiped one TD off the board but Petrongolo found Harwood in the flat to convert on fourth down and then Jones punched it in from the three.
With the game in danger of getting out of hand, KP responded on its next drive. It started with a 26-yard completion to Danny Clancy to the 50. Clancy also drew a pass interference call and made a nice grab on the sideline to convert on third down. On fourth and two, Jonathan Joseph got open in the flat for six yards down to the four. Gately did the rest, breaking off tackle to the left and, rather than racing to the pylon, initiated contact with the linebacker to break the plane.
Once again, momentum switched straight back to CM. On the first play on the ensuing drive Petrongolo threw a backward pass to Drew DeLucia, who in turn threw it down field to a wide open Skeete for a 66-yard touchdown, just 12 seconds after KP scored.
“When you try to get into matching them, that’s not our game in the second half,” Lee said. “That’s what they do to everybody. Boom, you make a mistake, you force something that’s not there, and that’s what you get.”
The Warriors remained defiant. Clancy drew another pass interference call and Grant hit Nathan Kearney for 11 yards on a screen. After a holding call backed them up, Grant caught the CM defense with a shovel pass to Joseph, who broke it for 25 yards to the CM 40. Another screen to Gately turned into a 31-yard completion inside the 10. On third and goal, Grant kept it on the left side of the line for a one-yard plunge. He also found Cantave for the two-point conversion to make it 28-18 with 8:57 to play.
CM was proving unstoppable on the other side of the ball. A big return by Jones put them out near midfield and a pass interference call moved them down to the 23. On third and five, Petrongolo hooked up with Osinubi for an 18-yard score right down the seam. Osinubi would cap his three-score night with a pick six in the final 90 seconds to cap the scoring.
“I’m so proud of them,” Lee said. “They were never supposed to have a chance.”
Reflecting on how far the team has progressed this season, he added, “I didn’t even think we were that good and then all of a sudden you’re in the Super Bowl. It’s all about them, how hard they worked, how much they believed.”