Winning Streak Broken, Team Moves On
By Jordana Bieze Foster
On Friday night, the Nashoba Regional football players learned for the first time what it’s like to lose a varsity football game.
St. John’s of Shrewsbury, the same team that dealt the Chieftains their last loss in December 2010, won Friday night’s rematch in Bolton 49-21 as Nashoba’s 29-game winning streak skidded to a stop.
Senior running back Matt Sabourin of Stow rushed for 93 yards on 11 carries and had the first two-touchdown game of his career, but the Chieftains (now 3-1) simply couldn’t keep pace with the no-huddle Pioneers. St. John’s senior quarterback Drew Smiley threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns, and junior running back Shane Combs chipped in four rushing touchdowns to go with 133 yards on the ground.
“St. John’s has a very good football team, and they simply outplayed us,” said Nashoba head coach Jamie Tucker. “You’ve got to score more than they do to win, and we didn’t.”
No current Chieftains are old enough to have been on the varsity squad for the loss to St. John’s in the 2010 Division 1 Super Bowl. For that matter, no members of the current team had ever faced the Pioneers, who are now 3-1 on the season. It was an experience the Chieftains won’t soon forget.
St. John’s got on the board in a hurry, with a 76-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Smiley to junior Davon Jones less than three minutes into the game. But Nashoba came right back, as junior Drew Schartner returned the kickoff to the Pioneer 15 yard line and senior Eli Williams took it into the end zone from the 10. Stow senior Drew Korn made the first of three successful extra point attempts, and the score was tied at 7-7. On their next possession, the Pioneers then engineered a 73-yard drive, this time ending with a three-yard end zone run by Combs, and led 14-7 with five minutes still remaining in the first quarter.
Both defenses had more success in the second quarter, and a fourth-down stop by Nashoba gave the Chieftains the ball at their own 35 with 2:41 left in the half. A 60-yard run by Williams took Nashoba into the Pioneer red zone, and a 9-yard touchdown run by Sabourin knotted the score at 14-14 with just 44.8 seconds left in the half.
But that was plenty of time for Smiley and the Pioneers, who found themselves on the Nashoba 28-yard line with 14.9 seconds left. Smiley’s first throw into the end zone fell incomplete, but the second attempt found the leaping senior T.J. Kelley, who fought off triple coverage to hang onto the football even as he fell to the ground for the touchdown with no time left on the clock. The Pioneers led 21-14 at halftime, and the Chieftains would never fully regain their lost momentum.
Nashoba’s first possession of the second half went three and out, and St. John’s wasted no time reeling off another scoring drive, this one starting at midfield and ending with a nine-yard Combs run. The Chieftains made an offensive resurgence on their next possession, an 80 yard drive fueled by two big plays by Sabourin—a 42-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, and a 3-yard touchdown run four plays later to close St. John’s lead to 28-21 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
But the rest of the night belonged to St. John’s. The Pioneers scored again on a 38-yard throw from Smiley to Jones with 2:48 left in the third quarter, then stopped the Chieftains on fourth and goal from the 12 yard line early in the fourth quarter. Three and a half minutes later, a 1-yard touchdown run by Combs extended the lead to 42-21. And an interception by St. John’s senior Cam Murphy set up the Pioneers’ last touchdown, on a 5-yard run by Combs, to bring the score to its final margin with time running out.
Defending against the Pioneers’ no-huddle offense—not unlike the “blur offense” popularized by Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly—was challenging, said Stow senior co-captain Mike d’Entremont.
“It’s really hard to defend because they blur their motion. You get up from a tackle and have to go right back to the line of scrimmage,” d’Entremont said. “We didn’t have time to really execute our defensive plays as effectively as we could have.”
Tucker was encouraged by the team’s offensive performance, particularly that of Sabourin. “Matt always plays hard,” Tucker said. “I’m glad to see kids like that be successful.”
Sabourin, however, found it hard to celebrate his personal accomplishments.
“When you lose, it doesn’t really matter what you did as a player, the team still lost. Especially with the streak ending, that made it even worse,” Sabourin said. “It’s a horrible feeling to be the first Nashoba team to lose in three years.”
That said, Sabourin and his teammates know they can’t spend too much time mourning the loss or the end of the streak, because they’ll be traveling to Marlboro this Friday to face the 4-0 Panthers.
“At the beginning of the year our coach had us write down our goals for the season, and I don’t remember continuing the streak being one of those goals,” d’Entremont said. “To us, we’re 3-1, not 29-1. We can’t keep our heads down. We need to bounce back from this and use it for motivation. We need to practice hard and focus on the things we need to do on the field.”