FITCHBURG, Mass. — The Grafton Indians, with a little bit of fortune from Mother Nature and big effort from their punishing defense as well as a tough running game, wore down the #1 seed Northbridge Rams and shut them out, 21-0, in the Division 4 Super Bowl at Fitchburg State University on Saturday afternoon.
Grafton went to its first Super Bowl since 1989 when Coach Michael Ross was a player and its first win since 1986, a drought of 26 years. But it was a season of firsts for Grafton. They beat Millbury on Thanksgiving, their first win in 13 years also. It's also their first year in a new high school, where the home field is named for the late Richard Egsegian, the legendary 32-year coach and Northbridge native responsible for Grafton's last three Super Bowl wins.
The Indians did what no one else has been able to do, and that was shut down the powerful Rams offense led by Quarterback Matt Phelan who lit up the league both passing and rushing this season. And they did it with perhaps the best defensive lineman in the league in Corey Charpentier.
Charpentier was a disruptive force all season long as an inside defensive tackle, and while far from the biggest player, uses a non-stop motor and an intense desire to be the best at his position. Earlier this season, Northbridge directed their pass blocking away from Charpentier and the Rams were able to beat the Indians 28-21.
But on Saturday, Ross had Charpentier play in an up position at middle linebacker.
“We played Corey up and had him spy Phelan,” said Ross. “He’s the best defensive player in the league and today it showed.”
Charpentier was the catalyst in the tough Grafton defense that shut down, frustrated and ultimately did what no one had done in six years and that was shut out the Rams. Charpentier was outstanding, netting four sacks and blowing up play after play in not just the passing game, but in the running game where Phelan excelled.
What I was seeing, was find that little hole, find that seam and just attack it,” Charpentier said.
Just prior to the game, Ross looked at the sky with a slightest grin and said, “This is our weather, Grafton weather.”
Indeed it was, Grafton set the tone right from the start with their physicality. On just the second snap of the game, Indians quarterback Doug Oevermann took the snap and wheeled left and burst 68 yards for what would be the winning touchdown and just like that the Indians led 7-0.
The weather did play a factor in the game, with the snow and cold, the Rams were never able to find a comfort zone with the vertical passing game. On their first snap from scrimmage, Phelan looked deep for Ben O’Donnell, who was behind the safeties. Phelan’s pass was right on the money but O’Donnell dropped the pass and the Rams would never seriously threaten to score again
The Indians got the ball back and once again pounded the ball between the tackles and just chewed up yardage. In his post-game comments, Ross, when told the Indians weren’t pretty, smiled.
“When have we ever been pretty?” he asked. “We’re never pretty, we’re gritty and that’s what Grafton football is all about.”
That drive ended with Charpentier, filling in for an injured Cody Munoz, powering it in from the 8 yard line and Grafton would take a 14-0 lead into half-time.
Northbridge took their initial second half possession and tried to change things up, in the first half they attempted to spread the Indians wide but it wasn’t successful, so they tightened the formations up and tried the short passing game.
Phelan moved them down the field before the Indians tightened up in the red-zone and on 4th down and four from the 29 yard line Phelan was picked off at the 15 yard line, the last chance to get back in the game was gone.
Grafton took the ball and went on a long time consuming drive eating up the clock and whatever remained of Northbridge’s hopes. Oevermann ran in his second score from 11 yards out and the score was 21-0 and this one was over with the way the Indians defense was playing.
“This was about execution,” Ross said. “I’ve never had a tougher team.”