Defense Leads St. Bernard’s to Central Mass. Title
LEOMINSTER -- There aren’t many teams in Central Mass. that can say they’ve limited Anthony Iannacci -- a solid running back for Lunenburg -- to 13 yards rushing in a game. It just doesn’t happen very often.
St. Bernard’s can say that it did that and more: The Central Mass. Division 8 champions limited top-seeded Lunenburg to 193 yards of offense, but only 35 of that came on the ground.
Suffice it to say, the plethora of offensive options the Bernardians boast -- the most in the last quarter of a century -- isn’t the only thing that carried the Blue and Gold to Priest Street on this windy Saturday, and now to the state semifinals.
As the saying goes, defense wins championships, and the St. Bernard’s defensive 11 earned the hardware as it limited the Blue Knights on the ground.
But that’s been the story since the start of October for these Bernardians: With the exception of the 48-8 win over Monty Tech in Week 2, the Blue and Gold defensive unit had given up two or more TDs -- 13 or more points, and an average of 15.8 points per game -- in four of their first five games.
Fitchburg had scored 18 points in the season opener; two weeks later, St. Bernard’s put up a 58-26 win over Narragansett Regional. It yielded 13 points against Archbishop Williams in Week Four, before a 14-8 defeat to Nipmuc.
Since then, though...
“If you look defensively,” St. Bernard’s coach Tom Bingham said Saturday, “over the last six weeks, it’s really been trending in that direction. Our defense, since we gave up 14 points at Nipmuc, and since then, it’s been seven points or less each game.”
In all, St. Bernard’s has yielded 113 points per game, 34 of which coming since the loss to Nipmuc.
Key on Saturday was the way St. Bernard’s limited Lunenburg, especially on third-down plays: In all, Lunenburg was 3 of 11. It started 1 of 8 through the third quarter.
“Once third down hit,” Bingham explained, “we felt that was the time where we could pin our ears back and go after them a little bit. Coach (Tom) Gammel did a good job mixing it up.”
He added that the defensive approach has not changed since that Week 1 win over the Red Raiders: Back on that warm September night, he had noted that in the Wing T, it’s all about lines and angles, and keeping your positioning correct.
“We’re starting to get a little more comfortable with (the defense). The kids have to get comfortable with the base first,” Bingham said.
Lunenburg coach Steve Boone noted the way St. Bernard’s limited his team in his postgame remarks.
“I really think it was their athleticism. They were flying to the football. They were hungry,” he said.
The Bernies must now stay hungry as they look ahead to the Hurricanes of Hoosac Valley, who went 7-2 en route to the Western Mass. championship on Friday night. The ’Canes needed some free football to knock off Lee, 16-14, in overtime.
“Hoosac’s a very good team; we had the opportunity to see them (Friday night). The hay was in the barn; we figured win or lose, we needed something to do,” Bingham said of the trek to Williamstown Friday night. “They are very physical, a very thick team. They’re big, and they come right at you, make no bones about it.”
Then again, so do the Bernardians.