First of all, you have to understand that the Grafton High School football team is really good. The undefeated Gators are no fluke as the number four statewide seed in the Division 4 tournament.
Bedford High, ranked 12th but flying high after eliminating Tewksbury a week ago, had to be crisp, efficient, and opportunistic to stay with Grafton.
But all of those ingredients were in short supply Friday night, and Bedford’s hope for a 2021 title ended on a misty gridiron in central Massachusetts, 35-13.
Grafton, with 20 seniors and a 10-game winning streak, moves to next weekend’s Division 4 semifinals. The Bucs prepare to visit Burlington on Thanksgiving.
When the Buccaneers and their coaches and fans look back on the outcome of the elimination game, they will remember several what-if moments.
Grafton received the opening kickoff and ran 17 plays to cover 66 yards in almost 10 and a half minutes. The Bedford defense was tough, but Grafton inexorably converted three third downs and a fourth-and-one. Speedy sophomore Tyson Thomas raced around the left end for the touchdown.
The Bucs, as they have all season, answered quickly and loudly. Three straight runs covered 19 yards to the 38. Then the teams changed direction for the start of the second quarter, and Eric Miles got the call. The line opened a hole on the right side, Miles basted through, cut back, broke a tackle, and outran the defense for a 62-yard score, his 22nd touchdown of the fall season. Nick Tatarczuk added the extra point.
Then came one of those turning points. Grafton was penalized 15 yards for a personal foul on the touchdown, so Tatarczuk kicked off from midfield. The Gators, beginning at their 20, were penalized for holding. Quarterback Tyler Dimond threw an incompletion, then absorbed a six-yard Ryan Cohn sack.
So it was third-and-26 at the four-yard line for the Gators. The Bucs were poised to receive the ball in Grafton territory. Just one more play…
Dimond, the best athlete on the field, was not about to play it safe. He moved to his right and launched a spiral 40 yards that Jayce Walker hauled amidst the coverage, flipping the field and the momentum. Four plays later, Grafton was back in the endzone for a score. Two of those plays were 24-yard scampers by Dimond, including a reversal all the way across the field that ended with a TD.
When Bedford’s tempo offense is clicking, it is an awesome sight, chewing up yardage and wearing out defenses. But when it’s a little off, the Buc defense is back on the field in a hurry.
Bedford’s second possession took 78 seconds. A short pass from Jake Morrison to Mikey DeLia, a two-yard loss when Miles was tripped up in the backfield, and an incomplete pass, and just like that Charlie Naylor was punting for 37 yards.
Trailing 14-7, Bedford created another opportunity when Cohen and Miles sacked Dimond, and the quarterback lost the ball. The Bucs recovered at their 35 with 3:15 on the clock.
The ensuing series was a disaster. Two Miles carries for four yards. A false start on third down. A very short completion to DeLia made it fourth-and-nine. Then another five-yard procedure penalty. Less than two minutes after the recovery, Naylor was kicking again.
Grafton was 55 yards from the endzone and had a minute-and-a-half to get there. The Gators only needed 80 seconds. On second down from the Bedford 43, Dimond rolled to his left, then found Liam Donagher all alone in the left corner of the endzone.
Trailing 21-7 to open the second half, the Bucs, who are usually explosive, were within striking distance. They moved from their 11-yard line to the 40, with sizable rushes by Morrison and Miles. Then two incomplete passes and an eight-yard throw to Naylor, and the Bucs needed two yards for a first down near midfield.
They only got one. Doug Landry penetrated and stopped Morrison short.
The Gators, with help from a 15-yard personal foul penalty, moved right downfield in five plays. Thomas brought it in from the two. The Bucs ran a successful trick play on their next series, with Miles passing back to Morrison and the quarterback gaining 20. But he needed 32 for a first down, and when the fourth-down play failed, Grafton took over at the Bedford 32 and executed another easy drive.
The Bucs’ second touchdown was scored by junior Richie Fedele on a 19-yard pass from Morrison with 5:37 to play. Morrison’s try for the two-point pass was not successful.
Bedford’s offensive output was only 199 yards, with Miles rushing for 128. Morrison completed only five passes for 35.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763