GROTON -- One of the many signs of a good team is its ability to turn what is billed as a close game into a laugher.
On Thanksgiving morning, the Groton-Dunstable football team did just that. What was supposed to be a showdown for the Mid-Wach C league title turned into a blowout as the Crusaders used three touchdown passes from Mack Eberhardt and 133 total yards and three scores from Matt Manning to down previously unbeaten Tyngsboro 34-6 and claim the Colonel's Cup for a third consecutive year.
"We prepared for this game for almost two weeks and the kids came out and played with desire today," said Groton-Dunstable coach Derek Asadoorian.
"Our execution on defense was outstanding today and I feel like we took away a lot of things that they were trying to do. Offensively, we moved the ball efficiently and came up with big plays in big spots. The game already had special meaning as it was Thanksgiving against a rival, but it was even bigger with the league title on the line and the kids came out and did almost everything we asked them to do. It is just a big day, probably the biggest our program has ever had and it is real special."
Coleman Hill got the Crusaders off on the right foot, picking off a pass on the game's fifth play and setting up his team's first score of the day. Starting at their own 45, Groton-Dunstable took 10 plays to find the end zone. Eberhardt was the catalyst, accounting for all but eight of the yards and capping things off with an 11-yard scoring strike to Manning on a screen play on third-and-goal. Corey Romich added the extra point to make it 7-0.
On the ensuing possession, the Tigers came up with their lone scoring drive of the day. A 35-yard kick-off return by Chuck Keenan put the ball on the Crusaders' 44-yard line and Tyngsboro quickly went to work, using their ground game to move the ball. Keenan was the catalyst, carrying five times for 27 yards, including the final four on a toss left that went for a score. The PAT was no good, but it was now a one-point game.
Groton-Dunstable went back to work on offense and extended their lead with another methodical march. A 10-play, 66-yard drive was once again highlighted by Eberhardt, who broke loose for a 23-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage. After a run for no gain and a pair of incompletions, the Crusaders faced fourth-and-ten from the 17 and it seemed as if Eberhardt was going to be wrapped up for a sack, but the junior quarterback escaped and found a wide-open Quintin Forbes in the flats. Forbes made the catch and walked into the end zone for a touchdown and following Romich's kick, the lead was extended to eight at 14-6.
A three-and-out by the Tigers was followed by Groton-Dunstable's third score of the opening half. Manning carried the ball on the drive's first five plays, picking up 40 yards to move the ball down to the 25. On the sixth play, the Crusaders went to the air and Eberhardt tossed a bubble screen into the left flats. Forbes was there to make a spectacular one-handed catch and followed a wall of blockers into the end zone for his second score of the day. Romich's kick was true as the advantage was now 21-6 heading into the intermission.
Midway through the third quarter, Groton-Dunstable added to their lead, turning a short field into another score. A four-play, 44-yard drive showed off the balance of the Crusaders offense as Eberhardt and Forbes hooked up for a 19-yard connection, while Manning handled the ground work. The senior fullback, who picked up MVP honors, carried three times for 25 yards, including a nine-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown to make it 27-6.
Manning would cap off an outstanding day early in the fourth quarter. Behind the line of Matt Plausse, Charles Hill, Ben Lutkevich, Ronnie Peck and Sam Yeadon, along with tight ends Joey Steward and Alex Dhionis, who were instrumental in Groton-Dunstable holding 302 to 109 advantage in total yards, Manning broke loose for a 48-yard TD off the right side. Romich put home his fourth extra point of the day to account for the final as the Crusaders improved to 10-1 on the season with the win.
"Matt and Mack had big days for us and we have become used to them providing offense for us," said Asadoorian. "But without the play of the offensive line, we wouldn't have this type of success. There are just so many pieces that need to work together in order for a team to have success and right now all of those pieces are working together. Quintin came up with some big catches; Coleman's interception early on set the tone. There are so many kids that stepped it up today. We are going to celebrate this for a while, but now we have to get ready for Tuesday. We got out first league title, now it is time to get our first playoff win and that will be the only focus for us now."