Photo: Preston Jackson Stephens at the receiving end of a 87 yard pass from QB Avery Arno for a touchdown.
When Belmont High Head Football Coach Yann Kumin met his team for the first time at the beginning of the season, he told them there were three goals they were going to strive for: winning, playoffs and a happy Thanksgiving Day.
Three months later on Thanksgiving Day week, Kumin and the team are a victory away from accomplishing the final two of their objectives.
After making the football playoffs for consecutive years, Belmont could secure its first winning season in more than a decade by beating its traditional rival Watertown (5-5) on Thanksgiving.
“We have two goals packed into one game,” said Kumin of his 5-4 team as it prepares for the annual grudge match this year at Watertown’s Victory Field at 10:15 a.m. “We have a team that has the ability to be explosive and effective on both sides of the ball. We’ll be prepared for our big game on Turkey Day.”
Belmont is riding high into Turkey Day after a pair of post-playoff victories against Malden Catholic and Beverly.
It’s what senior wide receiver Justin Rocha didn’t do which turned out to be the pivotal single play in Belmont’s 24-21 victory over Beverly High during a Nov. 16 Saturday matinee.
After Beverly High’s Duncan Moreland (who’ll be playing at Division 1 FCS University of New Hampshire next year) scored his third touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter, it was up to Belmont’s offense to take as much time off the clock to stop the momentum the Panthers’ built in the final 12 minutes.
At the end of a critical third down play, a Beverly lineman went after Rocha with a couple of well-chosen arm chops to the head, then proceeded to clap his hands at Rocha. And through it all, the Belmont co-captain refused to retaliate.
All the better since a referee followed the altercation and flagged the Beverly player for a 15-yard personal foul penalty and a first down for the Marauders. And Rocha? He turned to the Belmont sideline with his shoulders and palms up and an “all’s good” look on his face.
A few plays later, a second Panther’s personal foul sealed a gritty victory by the Marauders.
“I’m really proud of the guys showing they had cooler heads. It was really two big moments and not to react was the smart thing to do,” said Kumin after the game.
It looked early on that Belmont would walk away with the win as it dominated both ends of the field. After senior kicker Hampton Trout made a chip shot field goal to give Belmont the lead, 3-0, Belmont’s defense dominated the line forcing the Panther to go three and out.
Belmont’s senior QB Avery Arno sprung into action driving Belmont down the field before connecting with junior WR Matt McHugh for a 23-yard pass down the middle of the field. The Marauder’s next possession saw Belmont facing a third and long in the shadow of its own goal line when Arno found junior WR Preston Jackson Stephens streaking down the right sideline for a 87 yard TD.
Beverly came back behind Moreland and three interceptions to cut the score to 17-14 only to see Belmont’s all-purpose senior RB Chad Francis to take the majority of carries before running to increase Belmont’s lead to 24-14.
The Beverly win came after the Marauders in a thoroughly workmanlike manner defeated Malden Catholic, 28-7,
The final home game of the season saw Francis run for 206 yards on 28 carries, earning him his fourth mention in Boston’s daily papers this season as either a Star or Player of the Week.