TOWNSEND -- On Friday night, the North Middlesex football team controlled the ball, won the yardage battle and held an edge in nearly every statistical category but one: big plays.
Keyed by touchdowns on a 47-yard run, 65-yard pass and 82-yard fumble return, St. Peter-Marian rode the big play to victory, handing the Patriots a 22-6 defeat on Homecoming Night at the John E. Young Memorial Field.
"I thought we played hard throughout and did a nice job on both sides of the ball throughout the night," said North Middlesex coach Sandy Ruggles. "The difference was on the three scores. Defensively, we kept them in check throughout the night, except on the two long scoring plays, and that proved to be the difference. Offensively, we moved the ball well, but had some chances go by the board. It is a tough loss because I feel like we were as good, we just didn't get it done tonight."
The lone highlight of a four-punt first quarter fittingly came on a punt play. Facing fourth-and-six from their own 34, the Patriots rolled the dice and called for a fake. Punter Dylan Woods took the snap and followed a line of blockers to pick up eight yards and give North Middlesex a fresh set of downs, but the drive eventually resulted in a punt as the first 11 minutes went by scoreless.
On their third possession of the evening, the Guardians broke the scoreless tie in just one play. From the Patriots 47, Dan Henrickson took a hand-off and went off the right tackle, blowing by a group of defenders and racing 47 yards for the game's first touchdown. Noah Burke added the conversion run to give St. Peter-Marian an 8-0 lead with 9:46 to play in the opening half.
North Middlesex needed just eight plays to respond with their lone score of the evening. A 69-yard drive was keyed by Joe Dolciotto (27 total yards) and Brandon Lambert (21 yards), but it was Woods who did the honors.
The halfback started the drive with a 14-yard run and closed it by going in from six yards out for a score. The conversion pass failed, but the Patriots drew within two at 8-6 heading into the intermission.
After three punts and a turnover on downs, the Guardians added to their lead via the pass. After an illegal formation penalty backed St. Peter-Marian up 5 yards to their own 35, quarterback Jalen Evans-Ashton connected with Burke on a quick slant. Burke found nothing but open field in front of him, outrunning the defense for a 65-yard touchdown. Zack O'Connor added the extra point to make it a 15-6 lead with 1:06 to go in the third quarter.
Much like after the Guardians first score, North Middlesex put together another solid drive in an attempt to answer. Starting at their own 30, the Patriots got four completions from John Boutwell for 42 yards and a 13-yard run from Tyler Zech to set up a first-and-10 from the 11. On the next play, a blindside hit caused a fumble that was scooped up by St. Peter-Marian's Jamal Smith and returned 82 yards for a touchdown. O'Connor's kick made it 22-6.
Twice in the closing minutes, North Middlesex drove into opposing territory only to be turned away. With Boutwell out, Matt Wetherall led drives down to the 29 and 35, but twice the Guardians defense held and forced a turnover on downs to preserve the win and move to 4-4 on the season.
"I thought our defense, especially the front of it, did a nice job in controlling the line," said Ruggles, whose team fell to 3-5 on the year. "Boutwell played a heck of a game considering the pounding he took. Dolciotto, Woods, Lambert and Bryan Croteau were solid. I know we played as hard as we could, which is all I can ask for, and now we have to turn our attention to Algonquin."