Photo: 6-4, 2023 Middlesex Liberty champs, Div. II playoffs and a rout vs Watertown
There would be no mercy on this Thanksgiving Day.
Having suffered three consecutive defeats and more than a decade of beatdowns and indignities – i.e., the taunting and nasty chants at the end of last year’s 21-7 loss at Fenway Park – at the hands of Watertown, this holiday Thursday would see the long overdue payback as the Belmont High Football team annihilated the host Raiders, 47-0, on Victory Field.
“We’ve been waiting three years for a win against these guys,” said Belmont Head Coach Brian McCray after the game.
“The kids were fantastic. Shout out to all the seniors. They were the pillars of the team and they really wanted it and went out with a win.”
The margin of victory sets a record in the game’s 101-year history, while the 47 points were the most scored by either team since the Raiders put up a record-setting 54 against a winless 2013 Marauders squad. Watertown now leads the series, 50-46-5.
Played on a glorious late-fall morning, Belmont dominated the Raiders in every aspect of the game, scoring on nearly every offensive possession over the 48 minutes. At the same time, the defense prevented Watertown from entering the red zone – inside Belmont’s 20-yard line – until the game’s final minute.
“The past two years, we lost to Watertown, and they ensured we knew it. So we had to get our revenge,” said Jayden Arno, Belmont’s senior quarterback and co-captain, who threw three touchdowns to three different receivers while scoring on the first play of the second half on a 49-yard quarterback run.
“And we came out. The offensive coordinators did a great job with the plays throughout the season, and we put all of our arsenal into this game, and it worked out.”
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line made the day a misery for Watertown’s runners by stuffing the Raiders three times on 4th down in the first half while sacking the quarterback four times and taking the ball away from the Raiders twice on interceptions.
“[Losing to Watertown for three years] provided a lot of motivation for us as a team because all we want to do is win this game and win it for [Belmont]. This is bigger than us. We definitely put all our preparation into this,” said senior linebacker and co-Capt. Ryan Halloran, the stalwart on defense this season.
It didn’t take long for Belmont to strike after the defense stopped Watertown on a fourth and one on the Raiders’ 35. On the first play from scrimmage, Arno found junior Billy Hendrickson alone on the right sideline, where he waltzed in from five yards out. Belmont 7, Watertown 0 after senior co-Capt. Austin Lasseter kicked the conversion.
Given excellent field position at midfield on a failed trick kickoff, the Raiders used a 14-yard pass from QB Anthony Shorter to first-year TE Joe Connors to reach the Belmont 24. But again, Watertown was repealed on third and fourth down and two from the 24. Belmont would start its second drive with a 10-yard gain from senior RB and co-Capt. Adrien Gurung. The next time Belmont’s all-star running back touched the ball, it was to carry the pigskin 62 yards up the gut for Belmont’s second touchdown and a 13-0 lead after a botched PAT.
The Raiders drove to the 50 when the Marauder defense stepped up as senior co-Capt. Bryce Hubbard cut in front of the receiver and made a fingertip interception. On the next play, Arno found senior co-Capt. Brian Logan behind the Watertown defense for a 50-yard pitch and catch touchdown. Belmont 19-0 as the Marauders failed on the try for two.
Soon afterward, Watertown failed to convert a fourth down for the third time. After Lasseter took the ball into Watertown territory at the 49, Gurung repeated his earlier stampede through the Raiders’ middle, this time for 49 yards for a touchdown to give Belmont a 26-0 lead.
Getting the ball back with 1:25 remaining at its 27, Gurung took a screen pass and rambled 57 yards until he was caught on a desperation tackle at the Belmont 27. On a fourth and 11 at the 16 with seven ticks left on the clock, Logan beat his defender into the end zone, but the ball went through his hands as the sun blinded his view. Belmont held a 26-0 lead at the half, scoring four touchdowns on five possessions.
The scoring continued 20 seconds into the third quarter when Arno scampered 49 yards along the right sideline to up the score to 34-0 after he dove in for the two-point conversion. On the next possession, senior RB Jayden Rodriguez punched it in from 2 yards out for a 41-0 lead, and the game reverted to “running time” when the clock only stopped for timeouts and end of quarters.
The scoring concluded in the fourth quarter with Donovan Holway catching a pass on a slant route from 6 yards out, after which the senior “dunked’ the ball over the crossbar, resulting in cheers from his teammates and a personal foul penalty from the refs.
In the final five minutes, with reserves getting a chance to clash with the Raider’s varsity, Watertown drove deep into Belmont territory. With two minutes remaining, McCray called back his starters to allow the defense to preserve the shutout. On the final play of the game ball, Belmont’s defense rallied to force a pass that was grounded in front of the receiver.
While Belmont’s assistant coaches put together an offensive and defensive game plan that worked nearly to perfection, McCray praised his group of four-year athletes.
“[The coaches] want to make sure [the team] is in a great position to win, but [the players] are the ones that are the generator of this victory. We’re just the guys calling plays and getting after it, but they’re the ones that really led us, and the senior leadership was just tremendous,” McCray said.
For the first time since 2019, it was only happy emotions for the Belmont players, coaches, and parents on Victory Field. The 2023 season will be remembered for the team winning the Middlesex League Liberty Division crown – its first Middlesex title since 1965 – defeating division rivals Reading and Woburn for the first time in more than a decade, earning a spot in the Division II state tournament, and shutting down rivals Watertown.
“This season meant a lot to me,” said Halloran. “My final year, I want to go with a bang. We definitely did that. We prepared a lot for this game, and everyone worked hard in practice. This game was won in practice. We did a lot to win this game, and it ended up working out great.”
I couldn’t have done it without my senior class,” said Arno. “We all worked hard since sophomore year, especially. And I’m just proud of my teammates,” said Jayden.
As Belmont finally left the field, McCray was seen carrying the Thanksgiving Day game trophy, which will reside for the next year (or two or ten) in the new trophy case outside of the Wenner Field House. It was just that the coach wanted a few days with the silverware.
“I’ll bring it back Monday,” McCray told Belmont’s AD Adam Pritchard.