Photo: Fenway Park was the setting for the centennial clash between Belmont and Watertown
There was only one appropriate location to play the centennial game in the long Belmont/Watertown football rivalry. And in the Boston area, that would be historic Fenway Park.
While Marauders would fall in the game, 21-7, on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns by Watertown’s running back William McHugh, the event was a once in a lifetime experience for the teams and fans who ventured into Boston’s Back Bay on the day before Thanksgiving.
With only passing clouds and temperatures in the high 40s, the pregame atmosphere was loud and joyous, with teens and kids banding about the “lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” with the Belmont High marching band performing the greatest hits. The Belmont and Watertown police departments joined in a combined color guard, as did the chorus’ from the high schools to sing the National Anthem. A highly successful pregame event hosted by Belmont Police Chief James McIssacs raised funds for the Junior Marauders, the middle school football program where most of the high school players get their start in the sport.
The hundreds of fans filled nearly the entire Red Sox side stands, with the Watertown contingency making up most of the spectators. But with everyone preparing for the long Thanksgiving holiday and the accompanying meal, the supporters and students from both schools were in good spirits for the 100th meeting between the border rivals.
It was a game that, by appearance and talent, Belmont (4-6) held the advantage: larger offensive and defensive lines led by junior Max Cornelius and senior Asa Rosenmeier, an all-star running back in junior Adrien Gurung, and three quick receivers – seniors Ben William and Chris Cogliano and junior Brian Logan – that towered over the defensive backs covering them.
While Watertown (7-4) had suffered four consecutive losses in their final five games, two of the Raider’s losses were to Super Bowl-bound opponents – Stoneham and Wakefield – and its run-centric offense had McHugh and Payton Andrade, the Raiders’ go-to backs who were the ground forces along with senior QB Johnny Cacace, the son of Watertown’s Head Coach John Cacace.
Watertown started the game with a promising drive – which included converting a fourth down near midfield – before a sack and a near interception forced a fourth and 15 from the Belmont 31, which the Raiders failed to make with six minutes on the clock. Belmont’s first time with the ball saw junior QB Jayden Arno find junior Bryce Hubbard to the Watertown 25, only to be negated by a false start.
After receiving a punt, Watertown started from its 31 and drove the field on its second six-minute-plus drive, scoring when the Watertown’s coaches son, Cacace, rounded the right corner and carried a Belmont defender nine yards into the end zone with 6:31 left.
Belmont would have its own impressive drive, including converting its own fourth down. A series of runs brought the ball to the six-yard line with a first down but only 39 seconds remaining. And it appeared that Belmont had squandered its chance as time ran out when Arno ran out of bounds on the 5-yard line. But a late hit personal foul on Watertown gave Belmont one final play in the half at the 1-yard line with zeros on the clock.
When Belmont needed a short conversion throughout the season, they placed Rosenmeier, the 6’5”, 300 lb USA Rugby U18 National team player and the anchor of the Belmont offense/defense lines, in the backfield and dared the other team to stop him. The outcome was a given as Rosenmeier barreled over center into the end zone to knot the score at seven at halftime.
The third quarter saw Belmont’s defense start on the right foot, halting Watertown with a sack. Belmont could only advance the ball five yards, and a short punt had Watertown starting at their 44 midway through the quarter. Watertown then would go on a grinding, time-consuming drive where the Raiders’ gained big chunks of territory on each attempt. It appeared Belmont had finally stopped the Raiders’ with Watertown facing a fourth and three yards to go from the Belmont 11 when the quarter ended.
Rather than attempt a field goal, Watertown’s McHugh swept around the right side to the Belmont two-yard line. McHugh scored on his second attempt to give the Raiders’ a 14-7 lead. Belmont faced a third and one at its 45 when G. broke a 20-yard romp up the middle to bring the ball to the 35. But unlike Watertown’s success on fourth down, Belmont could not convert a fourth and three yards from the 29-yard line with six minutes remaining. The Marauders’ defense immediately stiffened, putting Watertown into a second down and 14. But a ten-yard pickup and two yards on third down had Watertown facing a fourth down and one yard at its own 47-yard line with two minutes remaining on the clock.
But once again, Watertown could not be stopped on fourth down. With the clock winding down, Belmont could hope for a quick stop, but McHugh would take the next play up the gut of the Marauder defense and sprint untouched 55 yards into the end zone with 1:41 remaining. An interception sealed the game, and the celebration began on the Watertown side while Belmont sat near the Green Monster to discuss the game.
Watertown currently leads the series, 50-45-5. Belmont will need to wait 366 days before it gets a chance to begin a winning streak as the game returns to Thanksgiving day, next year at Victory Field in Watertown.