By Jordana Bieze Foster
The Nashoba Regional football players did their best to take one game at a time, one win at a time, because that was what got them through that first perfect season. But the dream of yet another Super Bowl victory to end a second consecutive 13-win season was always in the backs of their minds.
On Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, that dream came true.
The Chieftains successfully defended their Central Mass Division 2 Super Bowl title with a 20-6 victory over Shepherd Hill, a win that clinched back-to-back perfect seasons and gave Nashoba the state’s longest current winning streak at 26 games.
“It’s an unbelievable experience,” said Stow senior nose tackle Cam Rothfuss. “At end of last season we knew we wanted to get back to the Super Bowl again, especially knowing it would be at Gillette. That was always something we thought about, and we talked about it, but we also knew we had to focus on one game at a time and not think too far ahead.”
Nashoba now has the only football program in Central Mass that has twice achieved back-to-back perfect seasons. The Chieftains went 9-0 during the 1969 and 1970 seasons under Everett Ingalls, but the current team is the first to accomplish the same feat in two 13-game seasons.
“We think a lot about the history of the Nashoba football program, and we think it’s important to carry ourselves the right way and uphold that tradition,” said head coach Ken Tucker after being awarded the Super Bowl trophy on Saturday. “We made history today.”
For two seasons now, a critical component of Nashoba’s achievement has been its consistently stalwart defense. And for two seasons, that defense’s ability to shut down a double-wing offense has been showcased in the playoffs. Holy Name and Shepherd Hill run the double-wing as effectively as anyone, but the Chieftains have dominated both offenses for four consecutive playoff games: Holy Name in the 2011 Super Bowl and 2012 semifinal, and Shepherd Hill in the 2011 semifinal and the 2012 Super Bowl.
In Saturday’s matchup, that Chieftain defense abbreviated the Rams’ opening drive by forcing a turnover on downs at
the Nashoba 42 yard line. With the game still scoreless moments into the second quarter, another big fourth-down stop held up the Rams at their own 27 yard line. Five plays later, the Chieftains jumped to a 7-0 lead, courtesy of a 14-yard touchdown run by senior Andrew Cross and an extra point kick by Stow junior Drew Korn.
Shepherd Hill got on the board early in the second half when a pass from senior quarterback Drew Ravanelle to senior tight end Chris Dutting turned into a 72-yard score. But the Chieftains came right back, with a 26-yard pass from senior co-captain and quarterback Jack Sarnoski to senior co-captain and wide receiver Brady Schartner setting up first and goal at the 5 yard line. On the next play, junior running back Eli Williams took the ball into the end zone. The extra point attempt was deflected, but the Chieftains led 13-6.
Both touchdowns featured key blocks by junior Frankie Chiodo and Stow junior Mike d’Entremont. The scores also exemplified the offensive creativity that the Chieftains have developed throughout the course of the season.
In a number of Nashoba’s early wins, speedy Stow senior running back John Ojukwu accounted for the lion’s share of the team’s yards and points, including a memorable five touchdowns in the September 28 win over Holy Name. But Tucker repeatedly maintained that Nashoba was never a one-back team—something that opponents learned the hard way as Sarnoski, Cross, Williams, and others made them pay the price for focusing their efforts on Ojukwu.
Ojukwu missed two games in November with an ankle injury and on Saturday was still not fully healthy, experiencing pain when making cuts or any type of lateral movement. But the Shepherd Hill players didn’t know that, and the Chieftains used Ojukwu effectively as a decoy throughout the game to create opportunities for other offensive players.
“Me making my fakes and running in motion I think opened some holes for Andrew and Eli and the other backs too,” Ojukwu said. “I did what I could. It definitely wasn’t my best game, but at least we got the win.”
Tucker certainly wasn’t minimizing Ojukwu’s efforts.
“John is a great player when he’s completely healthy,” Tucker said. “We wouldn’t be here without him, and he made a great contribution today.”
But in the end, fittingly, it all came back to the defense. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Rams seemed to have regained some momentum after intercepting Sarnoski in the end zone. But on the second play of that possession, pressure from Rothfuss and others forced Ravanelle into a bad throw that Schartner tracked down at the Shepherd Hill 22 yard line and ran into the end zone.
“The game was winding down, and coach told us we had to kick it in gear, so I went as hard as I could to try to sack the quarterback or make a big play,” Rothfuss said. “When I saw him throw it, I looked back and saw Brady catch it. Once he ran past me and the rest of the players, I knew it would be a TD.”
Korn’s extra point kick extended the lead to its final margin. Minutes later, the 2012 Super Bowl was over, and Chieftains had secured their place in history.