On Friday, before an estimated crowd of 1,000 people – what Braintree Athletic Director Mike Denise called the largest regular season, non-Thanksgiving game in his five years – the Wamps took to their for the first time against Natick, who defeated them on Homecoming night 21-12.
“I told the kids I was proud of their effort,” Braintree coach Brian Chamberlain said. “We just didn’t make enough plays.”
Braintree opened up the game and decided to take a chance with an onside kick. The gamble paid off as Natick was caught off guard and the Wamps recovered the ball.
Braintree went to their ground game immediately, relying mostly on the inside/outside tandem of seniors Tim Dutcher (in his first game back after missing three games with a knee injury) and Dom Eddings (22 carries for 124 yards). The Wamps were able to get the ball to the 10-yard line, but were stopped on fourth-and-1.
Natick took over and on their second play from scrimmage freshman Brian Dunlap took off down the left sideline and sophomore quarterback Troy Flutie threw the ball over the defense and into his hands. Dunlap never had to break a stride as he raced all the way to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown. The PAT was good and Natick led 7-0.
After a Braintree punt, the Red and Blue got the ball back. Facing third-and-9 from their own 29-yard line, Flutie found Dunlap once again, and this time he went 71-yards for the score. The PAT made it 14-0 Natick with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
From there the game became a defensive battle. After the Wamps turned the ball over on downs, Natick began to move the ball again, but this time the Braintree defensive pressure turned things up a notch and senior defensive end Liam Baggett reached Flutie right as he was about to pass and caused him to throw a little off-balanced. The pass was off the mark, and senior Aaron Lee intercepted it, one of three interceptions on the day by the Wamps defense (Lee had another, and Eddings had one).
“We thought we could move the ball on them and we did, but you can’t turn the ball over three times in the red zone,” Natick coach Mark Mortarelli said. “We moved the ball at will and then we didn’t punch it in three times. That’s 21 points we left on the board. That’s unacceptable.”
Braintree punted a couple times and Natick turned the ball over again before the half, which was unique in that it was extended for the dedication ceremony of the new field.
Halftime began with the finalists for homecoming king and queen being announced as they stood out on the field amid cheers from their fellow Wamps classmates. The winners will be announced at tonight's Homecoming Dance.
Fox 25 sports reporter Butch Stearns, a Braintree High alumnus, was then introduced to the crowd and took over the microphone at midfield as a large contingent of Braintree town and school officials, as well as past Braintree football coaches and athletic directors, gathered to take part in this historic occasion.
Stearns then introduced Mayor Joseph Sullivan, who told the crowd that this wasn't just "a great night for Braintree athletics," but for the entire town of Braintree. Denise took over the microphone and thanked several people for making the new field possible, including the , Mayor Sullivan, Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg and the School Committee. He presented some of the key figures in the project with a framed piece of turf.
Braintree received to open up the second half and went right back to work on the ground. Starting on their own 31-yard line, the Wamps moved the length of the field in 13 plays, all on the ground, capped off by a 5-yard touchdown by Dutcher (19 carries for 64 yards). The PAT attempt was mishandled after a low snap, so the score was 14-6.
After a Natick turnover, Braintree went 97 yards, again all on the ground, on their next drive. The highlight of the drive was a reverse run by senior Steve Donovan that went for 44 yards, and senior Pat McLeod took it in from a yard out to bring the score to 14-12.
“They had a strong running game,” Mortarelli said. “We only have up 12 points, but it felt like a lot more than that.”
Braintree’s momentum didn’t last, though. Natick got the ball back and went to their ground game right away. Led by junior running back Nick Lee (14 carries for 76 yards), The Red and Blue moved the ball 61 yards, and once again Flutie was responsible for the touchdown, this time on a 3-yard run. The PAT was good and Natick had a 21-12 lead with 7:17 to play.
The Wamps got the ball back and marched down the field, but there just wasn’t enough time left. Natick junior linebacker Mike Dunlap, who Mortarelli said played very well, put an exclamation point on the victory when he sacked Braintree quarterback Anthony Luisi to force a turnover on downs.
Natick improves to 6-1 with the win. Mortarelli thinks his team still needs to improve on their tackling and finishing drives. He also thought highly of the Wamps.
“They played very well,” the Red and Blue coach said. “I give them a lot of credit. They played hard. Their kids were enthusiastic. [Eddings] ran his butt off. [Dutcher] played well. I was impressed with them.”
The loss drops Braintree to 3-4 on the season. Chamberlain singled out Eddings, Dutcher and the entire offensive line as playing well. Myke Lane and Baggett performed well on the defensive line.
“It’s starting not to be the same guys [playing well],” Chamberlain said. “It’s more guys playing well.”