DUDLEY, Mass. - On a night which most people would prefer watching a movie on the couch, two of the top teams in Central Massachusetts butted heads on the gridiron. In a physical matchup between two squads nicknamed the Rams, it was Shepherd Hill, utilizing a punishing running game that produced 392 yards in offense, all on the ground, outlasting previously unbeaten Northbridge 42-27 Friday Night at soggy, foggy Carmignani Memorial Field in Dudley.
Northbridge's first drive was promising. Starting on their own 30, they would advance to the Shepherd Hill 36. The key play in the sequence was a 19-yard completion from quarterback Matt Phelan to wideout Ben O'Donnell on 3rd and 9. Facing a 2nd and 6 from the Shepherd Hill 36, Phelan's pass was intercepted by Drew Ravenelle.
Northbridge's defense would stonewall Shepherd Hill on the next possession, forcing a punt from the Shepherd Hill 24. Unfortunately for the boys from along the Blackstone River, that would be the only empty possession of the night for Shepherd Hill.
After a Northbridge three and out, Shepherd Hill would draw first blood. Taking over at the Northbridge 40, the boys from Dudley would methodically march down the field in 10 plays culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run by bruising fullback Tyler Simmons. Jake Gelb would add the 2-point conversion, and the Shepherd Hill Rams had an 8-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Northbridge would answer on their next possession, driving 66 yards in nine plays, topped off by a perfectly thrown ball by Phelan to Dan Clasby from 32 yards out. The touchdown occurred one play after a key 4th an 1 conversion by Phelan on a quarterback sneak. Phelan's 2-point conversion pass intended for Dalton LaChapelle was broken up by Gianluca Laudone, and Shepherd Hill maintained a two point lead.
The late Woody Hayes would have been proud of Shepherd Hill's clock-killing touchdown drive on their next possession as the Rams rugged ground game chewed up 76 yards of real estate on 12 plays in 3:46, culminating in a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ravenelle. A beautiful 12-yard run by Gelb kicked off the drive. Gelb added a key 7-yard pickup on 3rd and 7 from the Shepherd Hill 39 to keep the march alive. Gelb's conversion run failed, leaving the score at 14-6.
Northbridge had 45 seconds remaining in the half to try and answer, and proceeded to drive to the Shepherd Hill 41. However, Phelan was sacked on the final play of the half leaving it 14-6 at the break.
Shepherd Hill's gameplan of keeping the vaunted Northbridge offense off the field was executed to perfection on the opening possession of the 3rd quarter. A punishing 11 play 59-yard drive sapped 5:14 off the clock. Kyle Amico would cash in from 6 yards out to make it a two score game. A big 2 yard dive from Simmons on 4th and 1 from the Shepherd Hill 49 and a 14 yard sweep on 3rd and 12 by Drew Jean-Guillaume were the key plays on the scoring march. Simmons' conversion run was stopped leaving the score 20-6.
Phelan would take matters into his own hands on Northbridge's initial second half possession. From the Northbridge 37, Phelan would keep it for 13. Clasby hauled in a 17-yard reception moving the ball into Shepherd Hill territory. Three straight completions and a 4-yard keeper set up a 1st and goal at the 9. After a 6-yard completion to Clasby, Phelan knocked it in from 3 yards out. Alex Smith's point after cut the lead to 20-13.
Northbridge appeared to be closing in on the defensive stop they needed as Shepherd Hill faced a 3rd and 7 on their own 40. A 10-yard run by Jean-Guillaume would move the sticks, however. Three plays later, Laudone struck paydirt from 34 yards out. Gelb would add the 2-point conversion, and Shepherd Hill was out to their biggest lead of the night at 28-13 with 9:30 remaining.
Northbridge's quick strike offense would answer. On 1st and 10 from their own 37, Phelan hit Clasby for 14 yards. After an incompletion, Phelan would keep for five, with a personal foul penalty advancing the ball to 29. Phelan then hit Clasby for 20, setting up a 1st and goal. After an 8-yard Phelan keeper, Clasby knocked it in from the 1. Smith's extra point cut the lead to eight with 7:33 remaining.
Unfortunately for Northbridge, Shepherd Hill's punishing running game would prove too much to handle. The Rams of Dudley and Charlton marched 62 yards on seven plays in 3:44 capped by Gelb's 5-yard touchdown run. Gelb had setup the score with a big 38-yard jaunt. Laudone's rush was stopped, and with 3:43 remaining, Shepherd Hill's lead stood at 34-20.
Northbridge exhibited the heart of a champion in answering the Shepherd Hill tally. With dense fog causing poor visibility, the Rams produced a well-executed 15 play scoring drive culminating with Phelan's second score of the day, this time from 7 yards out. A big 11 yard Phelan to Robie Sabourin connection on 4th and 10 from the Northbridge 30 kept the Rams alive. Smith added the extra point, and Northbridge was within seven.
With only 1:13 remaining, both teams knew the onside kick was coming. It was Jesse DiTommaso who would snare the kick for Shepherd Hill. Amico would drive the final nail in the coffin by breaking a 53 yard touchdown run with 51 seconds left. Gelb's 2-pointer would cap the scoring.
Phelan was 15 for 25 passing for 166 yards, and added 82 yards on the ground for Northbridge. Gelb and Amico each rushed for 96 yards to pace Shepherd Hill's attack.
Northbridge (6-1) returns to action next Friday night as they travel to Oxford. Shepherd Hill (6-1) will host Fitchburg.