Photo: Belmont running back Mekhai Johnson
Belmont High School Football Head Coach Yann Kuman stood before his team moments after the Marauders found themselves on the short end of an 18-15 score against the Woburn High Tanners under the Friday night lights, Oct. 2.
“There’re no words to express how proud I am of this team right now,” said Kuman, after the team’s hard-fought encounter with the experienced Middlesex League squad.
“I say to you what I said to the guys in the huddle, you found your spot tonight. [Woburn] ran you out of the ballpark last year. You guys have more fight and more courage and more pride in what you are as football players and as men then any team I have been privileged to coach,” he said to the team.
In a near-complete turnaround in pose and technique from the previous week’s disappointing performance at Arlington, Belmont stayed with the Tanners for the entire game and had the ball with less than three minutes in the game before giving up the ball near mid-field.
“We’re just one better call, one better block, one better tackle away from a different outcome. There are a lot of these little individual moments that if it goes the other way, we are winning,” said Kumin.
The big takeaway from the game was the improvement from Belmont’s defensive front seven. Led by linemen Justin Aroyan and Lowell Haska, the defense plugged up the middle of the field, making life miserable for Woburn’s running back Brandon Moscat.
The defense forced the Tanners on a three-and-out on its first series before giving up a Hail Mary 25-yard TD pass on fourth down and 10 yards from Tanner QB Tim Concannon midway through the second quarter to give the Tanners a 6-0 lead.
The score came after Belmont held the ball for nearly 10 minutes on its first possession behind the running of Ben Jones and Marauder star senior Mekhai Johnson, who carried the ball 19 times for 165 yards. The 15 play, 59-yard drive stalled at Woburn’s 30-yard line but demonstrated a confidence in the offensive line and the running game.
“I thought the offensive line really came out to play today and did a great job,” said Kumin.
After the Woburn score, Belmont took the ball and behind Johnson’s running and critical passes from Belmont QB Cal Christofori to receivers Trey Butler (6 yards) and Joe Shaughnessy (11 yards), the Marauders drove the ball 54 yards to score on a Johnson one-yard run around the left side, taking a 7-6 lead into the half.
With Jones out of the game since the second quarter, Johnson was the man as he carried the ball six consecutive times to start the third quarter before Belmont was forced to punt.
Woburn appeared ready to give the ball right back as it faced a second down and 17 from its 13-yard line. But a facemask penalty and its ability to make a series of third-down plays allowed the Tanners to march down the field to take the lead, 12-7, on a Moscat one-yard run a minute into the fourth quarter.
Woburn was back on the march a minute later after a Belmont three-and-out that included a 29 yard Moscat run to the Belmont 19. A few plays later, Concannon snuck the ball over the goal line to give the Tanners an 18-7 lead with 5:47 left in the game.
But on the first play from scrimmage, Johnson uncorked an eye-popping scamper around left end and sprinted 74 yards for the TD, his third 70-plus yard touchdown run for the season, cutting the lead to 18-15.
Woburn’s attempt to seal the win by running the ball and taking time off the clock was turned on its head as Aroyan stripped the ball from Moscat and Belmont recovered the ball at their 36 yard line with 2:30 seconds remaining in the game.
On a third and two from the 44-yard line, Christofori’s pass to Rob Aiello was knocked out of the receiver’s hands by a vicious, but legal hit at the Woburn 45 yard line. After waiting for five minutes before resuming play, Belmont’s fourth down play didn’t make it past the 46-yard line. Woburn was able to take the time down to a few seconds before giving it back to the Marauders, effectively ending the game.
For Kumin, the game showed the best of his team as it continues to improve in the tough Middlesex League.
“That was a great football game,” a physically exhausted Kumin said.
“I thought our defense found itself a bit. Obviously, [Woburn] is a team that can do some things and I thought we shut them down pretty well. They squeaked out of here with a three-point victory. We were one play away on that last drive from making it really interesting.”
Next up for Belmont is Reading High at Harris Field on Friday, Oct. 9 at 6 p.m.