Photo: Belmont Head Coach Yann Kumin with his players after defeating Watertown on Thanksgiving.
There were four goals Belmont High Head Football Coach Yann Kumin sought to accomplish by the end of the 2019 season; three concerning the team and a very personal one.
The objectives on the field were to have the program’s first winning season since 2009, make the Division 3 North sectionals playoffs for consecutive years and beat neighboring rivals Watertown on “Turkey Day.”
And when Belmont senior QB Avery Arno took a knee with the team in the victory formation, Kumin’s team met all the preseason challenges presented to it in the heat of late August. A 6-4 season, a playoff game at Danvers and a 24-14 victory on a cold windswept Victory Field over hosts Watertown.
“This is the perfect ending of a perfect year,” Kumin told his team minutes after the conclusion of the game. “I love you guys. I’m so proud of what this team accomplished because it wasn’t an easy game to play.
But it was the unspoken goal that was the greatest accomplishment for the sixth-year coach; being diagnosed cancer-free after a summer of surgery and chemotherapy at Mass General Hospital. A lot lighter and with a lot less hair than his usual appearance, the end of the season was just the beginning of Kumin’s long recovery.
“I got so many emotions right now that I don’t really know how to feel as this is the hardest year of my life,” said Kumin after the game.
“I’m so lucky to have so many people making it possible for me to fight through it and give me something to come to work for every day and believing in us and believing in what we’re doing. You know, it’s really hard to put into words,” said Kumin as he held the game ball given to him by Belmont AD Jim Davis.
Belmont finished the season winning six of its final seven games, and had a 3-2 winning record against Middlesex Liberty opponents, a first for the program. The victory is the second in as many years for the Marauders which trails Watertown. 45-49-4 with one cancellation, in the 99 years of the rivalry.
Watertown came to the game with a simple defensive scheme: stop Belmont’s offensive juggernaut junior RB Chad Francis, who had scampered for more than 200 yards four times this season.
The Raiders’ commitment to putting eight players “in the box” to clog up the line of scrimmage put a damper on Francis’ ability for most of the game to find holes to run through. Consequently, the Raiders’ decision to focus on Francis allowed Belmont’s receivers to be covered “man-to-man” downfield which ultimately proved to be the difference at the end of the game.
“We just couldn’t really get … our run game going and that’s been our money all season,” said Kumin. “We’ve had a good [passing] game all season long and so we just went over the top. We saw some mismatches and kept going to it when we were in trouble and it worked out.”
It was all Watertown to start, throwing the playbook at Belmont with sweeps, dives into the line, short passes and finally a 35-yard pitch and catch TD from Watertown QB Brennan Cook to WR Will Dolan to give the Raiders’ a 7-0 lead with 3:35 left in the first quarter.
But Belmont’s defense settled down and had three consecutive series in which the Marauders stuffed Watertown’s attack including a stellar goal line stance after the Raiders’ had a first and goal from the 4-yard line.
Belmont finally got on the scoreboard when Arno hit junior WR Preston Jackson-Stephens with a 47-yard touchdown with 2:25 left in the first half to tie the game. The score came after the Raiders had a chance to extend their lead, but a first and goal from the four resulted in a missed field goal.
Belmont was able to uncork its running game early in the third quarter as it marched downfield behind Francis and senior FB Ryan Santoro. With a third and goal from the five, Arno located senior WR Zack Hubbard on a quick slant route – which the two used to win the Arlington game – to give Belmont the lead, 14-7, at the 6:06 mark.
Taking advantage of a three and out and a shanked punt that went 5 yards, Belmont‘s outstanding kicker Hampton Trout knocked through a 30-yard field goal into a stiff crosswind to extended the Marauders’ lead to 17-7 with 1:30 remaining in the third.
Watertown found its footing in the fourth quarter as the Raiders’ scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Cook to RB Karim Monroe with 8:26 left in the game to close the gap to three, 17-14. On its next possession, Watertown found it deep in the Marauders’ end with a first and 10 at the Belmont 29. But a penalty on first down, a flea-flicker pass that nearly worked on second down and a sack on third resulted in Watertown punting the ball to Belmont’s 13-yard line with 2:55 left in the game.
After failing the move the ball on the first two plays, Belmont faced a third down and 10 from the 13 when Kumin would say later was the best play call in his coaching life.
“It’s [called] the scissors with the ‘s’ vertical. This is one of our moneymaker combos but we added a little wrinkle that allowed the seam [the gap between two defenders] to open up,” he said.
And the call worked to perfection as Arno found junior WR Matt McHugh beyond the safety and cornerback for an 87-yard touchdown with 1:50 remaining. It was Arno’s second 87 yard TD pass in consecutive games.
For Kumin, the win was less a statement of what the Marauders had done this season but rather as a foundation for the program’s future.
“This is only the beginning. We’ve always said we completed phase one with last year’s class, and that this was the start of phase two which was to make runs in the Middlesex League and the D3 North bracket to win consistently on Turkey Day,” he said.
“We’re going to enjoy the heck out of it and then we’re going to get back to work and start getting ready for next year because you know we’re just really excited for where this program can go,” said Kumin.