Photo: Belmont’s Senior RB Kilian O’Connell finishing off the scoring in Belmont’s 33-20 victory over Watertown.
After surrendering three touchdowns in the first two minutes of the 98th edition of the Turkey Day tussle with Watertown, the Belmont High football team was asked to complete a 13th Herculean task; to climb back from the nightmare start with its holiday archrival and accomplish one of its main goals this season and win on Thanksgiving.
“It was a rough start, no doubt about it,” said Belmont Head Coach Yann Kumin. “But we have a football team that hasn’t quit this year and they weren’t today.”
After falling behind 20-0, Belmont (5-6) rode its impressive running attack to five consecutive touchdowns while a dominating defense shut out Watertown (4-7) for the game’s remaining 41 minutes as the Marauders overpowered the Raiders, 33-20, ending a six-game Thanksgiving Day losing streak on the coldest holiday observance in more than a century.
A touchdown by senior running back Rhaki Joseph and two from his backfield partner senior Kilian O’Connell coupled with a pair by junior QB Avery Arno including the go-ahead score on the first play of the fourth quarter nullified Watertown’s first quarter onslaught.
After being blitzed by Watertown, Belmont’s defensive front seven – led by seniors Sam Sagherian, Kamyar Nouri and Connor Shea, junior Ryan Hoffman and junior standout Derek Brown along with linebackers senior Mike Delhome and junior Ryan Santoro – kept the Watertown offense which came into the match on a three-game winning streak under wraps.
“They did a great job up front the entire game,” said Kumin.
While ultimately winning the game, Belmont could not have placed themselves further behind the 8-ball than it did to start the game. A pair of squib kicks bounced off two Marauder up men resulting in an “oops” touchdown when Watertown senior Mange Camara picked up a fumble to ran untouched for six followed by a three-yard rush by sophomore David Manoukian. A hard tackle off a pop-up kickoff saw Watertown gain the ball again. On the next play Camara sneaking behind the Belmont defensive backs to score off a pass from QB Nick McDermott. Five offensive plays, three touchdowns.
But rather than see the start as a disaster in the making, Kumin said Watertown’s unconventional kickoffs were “a good thing because it showed that they were nervous to give us the ball.”
“We knew once we had the ball in our hands, our game plan was going to be hard to stop,” he said.
On Belmont’s second play from scrimmage, Joseph found a hole in the line than rounded the corner and with an outstanding block by senior wide receiver Jared Edwards danced down the right sideline 61 yards to put Belmont on the board as the bundled-up crowd saw four touchdowns in the game’s first three minutes and nine seconds.
After the monster start, the Raiders found themselves bottled up for the rest of the first half, with Belmont defensive backs created a coverage sack on McDermott finished by Nouri and Sagherian and a big sack on the quarterback by senior co-captain Delhome to finish off the Watertown drive.
On the subsequent possession that began on Belmont’s three-yard line, O’Connell romped for 23 and 27 yards on consecutive plays to bring the ball deep into Watertown territory. On fourth down and three from the 26 and with Belmont showing a four-receiver set, Arno faked the pass and with a critical block by Santoro ran through a Watertown tackle for Belmont’s second touchdown with 6:31 showing in the second quarter.
In the true meaning of the saying “what comes around, goes around,” on the subsequent kickoff, junior Hampton Trout’s kick hit the back of a Watertown player and was recovered by the Marauders. A play after O’Connell broke tackles for 23 yards to the Watertown 12, the senior running back recovered from running into Arno during the handoff and sprinted 12 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 20 at 4:17 before halftime.
Watertown began the third quarter on the march as McDermott broke the Raiders’ longest run, 31 yards to the Belmont 39 as Belmont’s 20 put on a touchdown-preventing tackle. But with a first down on the Belmont 27, Belmont’s defense rose to the occasion as Brown took down McDermott for a five-yard loss and Delhome disrupted a screen pass for limited yards. A Watertown miscue on the center/QB exchange on fourth down ended the threat.
Belmont took over and methodically ran the ball – Arno would not attempt a pass during the game – down the field, eating up nearly eight minutes and scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on an Arno one-yard sneak.
Watertown began its next drive with consecutive first downs only to see another exchange mistake go over McDermott’s head leaving the Raiders in a deep hole before punting.
With six minutes to go, Belmont gave the ball right back to the Raiders on a fumble. But a sack by Brown – who has become one of the best defensive linemen in the Middlesex League this year – on first down led on a fourth down and nine and tight coverage by junior Justin Rocha stuffed out a Watertown drive once again. The coup de grâce came one play after Joseph rumbled 32 yards to Watertown’s one as O’Connell kicked to the outside to run unchallenged for his second touchdown.
After taking a well deserved but ill-advised victory bucket of water on a day the temperature didn’t rise above 17 degrees, Yumin was emotional – or just freezing – talking about the squad’s total effort in the game and for the season.
“Never gave up. I’m so proud of this group of players,” he said.
Photos by Lisa Sotir.