FOXBOROUGH — In the Division 4 Super Bowl against Tri-County on Saturday morning, the Manchester Essex football team did what the New England Patriots couldn't do in Super Bowl XXXXII against the New York Giants last February.
The Hornets capped off an unbeaten season with a dominating 36-6 win over the Cougars (9-3) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
It was Manchester Essex's first Super Bowl appearance since 2003 and the school's first title since 1999.
Hornets senior quarterback Pat Orlando (9-for-13, 172 yards, 3 touchdowns) not only broke his brother Vinny's school record for career touchdowns (it was 53, now it's 54) in the historic win but he also rushed for 52 yards in one last outstanding high school performance.
"We executed from the beginning," said Hornets head coach Mike Athanas. "We were ready to go. It was special for Pat to get the record, especially with his brother coaching him. We thought it would happen and he deserved it."
Manchester Essex's top-ranked offense (37.4 points per game) in Eastern Mass. made its presence felt early and often as the Hornets scored touchdowns on five of their first six drives.
"They're a very, very good team," Cougars head coach Dan Maclean said about the Hornets. "We knew what we wanted to do but we made some mistakes early and just couldn't get back into it. I can't take anything away from Manchester Essex.
We knew they could pass, Orlando is a great quarterback, he's showed that all year. We were just hoping to contain him a little bit but we couldn't. Offensively, we stalled a lot. Too many mistakes, against a team like that you can't make mistakes. Win or lose, I'm so proud of these kids."
Tri-County senior quarterback Lucas Mistler (5-for-13, 101 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions; 54 yards rushing) and his teammates could only manage 161 yards while Manchester Essex had 400 total yards.
On the Hornets' first drive of the game, they drove 59 yards in nine plays. Refusing to go down, junior running back Ben Kekeisen (39 yards rushing, 58 yards receiving) broke five tackles and ran it in from 11 yards. After a Tri-County penalty, junior Brian Ciccone ran in the two-point conversion for an early 8-0 Hornets lead.
"That's what we were talking about in practice," noted Kekeisen about his impressive carry, "to keep on running. Nothing's going to keep me out of the end zone, I'm playing at Gillette Stadium."
Manchester Essex's defense stopped Tri-County on a fourth-and-two on the next drive and the Hornets only needed two plays to increase their lead.
Orlando scrambled 20 yards and then he hit Kekeisen with a highlight reel 33-yard catch in the back of the end zone. The junior juggled the perfectly thrown ball by Orlando before hauling it in. Ciccone's kick put his team up 15-0 with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
The Cougars responded with their best drive of the game, four plays covered 68 yards for a score. Mistler found senior Jarred Gaumond (3 catches, 69 yards) with a 45-yard pass in stride for the touchdown on the last play of the first quarter. Tri-County tried a fake kick and pass for the two-point conversion but it was no good.
A seven-play, 63-yard drive for the Hornets to start the second quarter featured the aerial attack of Orlando to Kekeisen and junior Doug Kenerson with helpings of Ciccone and Orlando running the ball.
Kenerson finished it off with a 11-yard touchdown catch from Orlando with 6:53 left in the second quarter. Ciccone's kick gave Manchester Essex a 22-6 lead.
On the first play of the next Cougars drive, Ciccone intercepted an underthrown pass from Mistler.
Manchester Essex turned it over on downs on the next possession but Tri-County couldn't make the Hornets pay as they eventually punted.
Kekeisen had his number called three times in a row (17-yard catch, 11-yard run and 16-yard catch) for the last Hornets score of the second quarter. Ciccone's kick gave Manchester Essex a 29-6 lead heading into the break.
One of the more underrated aspects of Manchester Essex's championship run and fittingly the story of the second half was their defense. Just like the O'Bryant game in the semifinals, Manchester Essex pitched a shutout over the last two quarters.
Orlando picked off Mistler early in the third quarter and then Ciccone put the game away with an amazing catch.
Over two defenders, Ciccone caught a 44-yard pass from Orlando that went down to the Tri-County 1-yard line. On the next play Ciccone (65 yards rushing) punched it in.
"That catch by Ciccone was awesome," Athanas marveled. "We have too many weapons for people to stop us. "
In the fourth quarter, Hornets junior defensive back Seth Young had the third interception of the day for Manchester Essex. Junior running back Pat Hoffman helped to run the clock out as he had 53 yards rushing in the fourth quarter.
With the season finally over, Manchester Essex senior captain Max Quirk will relish the memories from Saturday and the rest of the season forever.
"I'm speechless," said the linebacker/offensive lineman. "This is everything I could have hoped for. To play for an undefeated season, in the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium with all these fans here, it's absolutely unbelievable.
We had a couple close games but we know that when we come out and play our game, nobody can roll with us."
Hornets junior Jack Bishop elaborated.,
"It's the greatest day I've ever had, winning here. We're going to remember this for the rest of our lives," he said.
Richard Slate can be reached at email@example.com.