St. Bernard’s is Headed to the Super Bowl
LOWELL -- They’re going back to the Super Bowl, and they’re doing it in emphatic fashion.
Backed by 342 yards of offense, a pick-six, solid field position, and a stout defensive line on third and fourth down, the Central Mass. champion St. Bernard’s football team ran absolutely roughshod on Western Mass. champ Hoosac Valley to the tune of a 42-0 triumph in the Division 8 state semifinal at Cawley Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The Bernardians (10-1), after their Thanksgiving Eve tilt with North Middlesex Regional at the Bernardian Bowl, will move on to the Division 8 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium -- home of the New England Patriots -- with a date and time yet to be determined. They will take on undefeated Eastern Mass. champion Pope John (11-0), which downed West Bridgewater, 31-14, earlier in the afternoon.
Hoosac, which started 1-2 en route to the Western Mass. title, sees its season come to a close at 7-3. Teams in the Berkshires don’t play football on Thanksgiving.
“Hoosac was as advertised,” St. Bernard’s head coach Tom Bingham said. “They’re big up front, thick up front, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way we rose to the occasion. Let me rephrase that: We didn’t rise to the occasion, the kids rose to the occasion, and they made the most of it. We lined up today. All week we’ve been talking about it doesn’t matter if it’s a running team or a passing team, it doesn’t matter. It’s about us. It’s about our own execution; they’re just a stumbling block in front of us, and they got it done.”
While we’ll get to the offensive numbers in a second, praise and kudos has to first go toward the Bernardian defense, which limited the Hurricanes to 223 yards of offense. But not only that, the Blue and Gold stifled Hoosac on third and fourth down, only allowing a total of four conversions out of 15 snaps.
One of those came on fourth down on Hoosac’s opening drive of the game, a 16-play series which inevitably saw St. Bernard’s, powered by the play of Micah Stinson (5 tackles), force a turnover on downs -- the first of five.
“I can tell you exactly what that is: That’s the kids. You don’t coach that,” Bingham said. “That’s 100 percent their will, their effort, them playing for each other. That’s all on the kids stepping up.
“That four in the middle there -- Micah, Ben Jacoby, Ben Shaw, Tyler Thibodeau -- were absolutely stout. They started to get us out at the edge, and we basically left those four inside and they took care of business.”
Not only that, a key fumble recovery by Domenic Cuevas gave St. B’s an extra possession, and Domenic Valera’s 48-yard pick-six in the third quarter all but put a cherry on this state semi, sending the Tar Hill Gang back to Route 1 for the second time in four seasons.
St. B’s also had relatively good field position on three of its scoring drives, while Hoosac had the long field in front of it the entire night.
After Maxwell Bigelow came up with the big stop to hold Hoosac on fourth-and-14 following the aforementioned 16-play opening drive, the Bernardians needed half the number of plays in order to punch in the game’s first points, marching 81 yards to do it.
On second-and-11 from the ‘Canes 47, and with the first play of the second quarter, Walter Morales Jr. (8 carries, 106 yards) took Cuevas’ handoff on the dive and went up the middle, turning on the jets and waving toodle-oo to score.
The conversion run failed, but St. B’s got the ball back immediately as Cuevas pounced on a fumble during the return.
“We’ve been stressing special teams the last handful of weeks,” Bingham said. “Our specials were good last week, they were good today.”
The Bernies then embarked on a seven-play, 40-yard drive, capped off by Morales sweeping the right-hand side from 2 yards away.
Big in the drive was a 20-yard carry by Jakai Alexandre that pushed the Bernardians into the red zone. Five plays later, Morales had his second score.
“Walter was fantastic. He’s just such a patient back,” Bingham said.
St. Bernard’s would force its second turnover on downs as Stinson and Jacoby combined to keep Casey Meczywor just out of range of the sticks, with a hearty tackle with the line overloaded to the left.
“The mindset we had,” Stinson said, “we wanted to come out physical and fast for the whole game. We wanted to push them and not put any points on the board. That’s really it.”
The Blue and Gold then went out on a 10-play, 83-yard drive with a pair of big runs by Morales moved the ball into Hurricanes territory. And after Domenic Valera carried 13 yards to the 12, two runs by Cuevas, the second right up the middle on the sneak from 3 yards out, helped the boys from Tar Hill jump out to a 22-0 lead at the half.
St. B’s made it 28-0 three plays after the restart, with Bigelow scoring from 9 yards away off left guard. And after forcing the Hurricanes to turn over on downs for the fourth time, it was two plays later when Xavier Marty went off right tackle and scored from 46 yards away.
“We couldn’t be more happy for Xavier,” Bingham said. “He has battling from day one: He had the knee (injury) last year, a hamstring -- he hasn’t been healthy since Fitchburg. And it absolutely killed him, it killed us; it was very emotional not to let him play last week (against Lunenburg). He might have been able to, but to see him break that run today, that’s hard work from him.”
Four plays later, after Hoosac converted its third third-down play, Valera brought an errant pass 48 yards to the house to cap off the scoring.
Hoosac Valley (7-3) 0 0 0 0 -- 0
St. Bernard’s (10-1) 0 22 20 0 -- 42
STB -- Walter Morales Jr 47 run (run failed), 10:52
STB -- Morales 2 run (Xavier Marty run), 7:16
STB -- Domenic Cuevas 3 run (Cuevas run), :27
STB -- Max Bigelow 9 run (run failed), 9:44
STB -- Marty 46 run (Domenic Valera run), 7:06
STB -- Valera 48 interception return (run failed), 5:07