CAMBRIDGE — You won't find many games this fall that match the drama of what took place between Independent School League foes Belmont Hill and Buckingham, Browne & Nichols Saturday at Russell Field.
There were big plays, long drives, turnovers, special teams momentum swings, clutch fourth-down conversions, and a down-to-the-wire finish that delivered as much entertainment as any game you'll see this fall at any level.
In other words, even though Belmont Hill prevailed, 28-21, to improve to 4-0 on the season, there were no losers out there.
Still, it was a tough defeat for BB&N, which at 2-2, faces long odds to return to a NEPSAC bowl.
The Knights scored first on a 19-yard run by running back Sammy Malignaggi. Belmont Hill tied it on the next drive when Trey Brown ran around the left side for a 28-yard score. A 13-yard run by Malignaggi put the Knights ahead, 14-7, at the break.
After that, things got a little crazy.
Belmont Hill quarterback Luke Bobo hit Henry Lodge on a tremendous grab from 20 yards out to help tie the score at 14 on the first drive of the third quarter. It stayed that way until the delirious final 12 minutes.
A muffed punt by Belmont Hill's Greg Desrosiers was recovered by BB&N's Ty Harding. On the very next play, though, Belmont Hill popped loose a fumble, and Jason Oliveri recovered it and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, though, and Belmont Hill clung to a 20-14 lead with 10:25 to play.
The Knights, who were stifled for most of the second half on the ground, finally broke through with a nine-play, 54-yard drive, capped by Jared Silverio's sneak from a yard out with 6:14 to play. Nicholas Wang's extra point gave the Knights a 21-20 lead that seemed safe when Belmont Hill went three-and-out on the next series.
But Belmont Hill forced a punt on the next BB&N possession, and took over at its own 21-yard line with 2:41 to play.
Facing a fourth-and-14 from its own 48, Belmont Hill converted when Bobo hit Cam Reirden for a 27-yard gain down the right sideline to give his team life. On the next play, Desrosiers took a handoff to the right with both guards pulling, found space, cut back and scored the go-ahead 25-yard touchdown. Bobo then hit Brooks Rayment for the two-point conversion and 28-21 lead with 42 seconds left.
That appeared to be it, but Malignaggi returned the kick 56 yards to the Belmont Hill 29. A Silverio completion to Cam Impemba and Silverio run of 15 yards gave the Knights the ball at the Belmont Hill 7 with nine seconds to go.
The comeback fell short, though, as Belmont Hill middle linebacker Grant Litchfield shot the A-gap, sacked Silverio, forced a fumble, and recovered it with four seconds to go.
Here are some highlights of those final moments:
BB&N's Zak Zinter (70) forces an incompletion on a third-and-14 pass attempt.
Belmont Hill quarterback Luke Bobo hits Cam Reirden for a 27-yard gain on fourth down.
Belmont Hill's Greg Desrosiers races in from 25 yards out with 42 seconds left.
Belmont Hill linebacker Grant Litchfield comes up with the game-winning defensive stop.
Some more observations from the game:
— Desrosiers always finds a way to make a big play. He did again with that touchdown run, and his speed around the perimeter makes life difficult for every opponent. He more than made up for the muffed punt with his terrific all-around performance.
Greg Desrosiers bursts around the corner for one of his many big plays for Belmont Hill.
He finished with 88 yards on 13 carries, and gave the credit to guard Aaron Sousa for his game-winning score.
"That play, we do that in practice a lot. We execute it," Desrosiers said. "Our guards, our line, Aaron Sousa, he's really good at pulling. Literally every play, I'm always seeing him in front. I'm very grateful for that, because he makes me look good. Me following behind him, that was his touchdown. You can say it's his touchdown, because he won that game."
— Bobo was not perfect, but he was effective on crossing routes and made key downfield throws when he needed to. Plus, his poise on the game-winning drive was exceptional.
He completed 12-of-22 passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Belmont Hill's Luke Bobo hits Henry Lodge for an acrobatic touchdown in the third quarter.
— Litchfield's play was indicative of a strong second-half effort to slow down BB&N's punishing run game.
Before BB&N's fourth-quarter scoring drive, the Belmont Hill defense limited the Knights to 10 yards on eight carries after they piled up 150 on 28 carries in the first half.
"That kid is a dog," Desrosiers said of Litchfield. "He is amazing. I don't even know what to say. He's a fighter, and he does whatever it takes for the team to win. I'm very proud of him."
Blake Brookes, a Dartmouth lacrosse commit, also stood out at linebacker, sacking Silverio to end a first-half BB&N drive near midfield.
Belmont Hill's Blake Brookes flies in off the edge for a sack in the first half.
The Belmont Hill defensive line had its issues at times holding up against the mammoth BB&N offensive line, but junior Ikenna Ugbaja made plenty of plays when the ball came his way.
"Ikenna, he's been working hard from the jump," Desrosiers said of the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder. "Last year, I don't even think he started. Now, he's working out and he's making big plays for us."
It was not hard to see how fired up Litchfield was for this one, by the way.
"This was our championship game," Litchfield said. "It's been five seasons since we beat them. They've been that constant, online chirping at us, just pissing us off. We took all that anger out on the field, showed 'em who's boss."
— The BB&N offensive line was as good as advertised. With Zak Zinter (6-6, 310), Thaddeus Foote (6-5, 277), Nathan Roach (6-4, 270), Andrew Nee (6-5, 295), and Francis Kelley (6-3, 290), there is plenty of size and a nasty attitude.
Malignaggi was the main beneficiary, as the senior rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Silverio added 67 yards and a score on 14 attempts. Matthew Bulman had 34 yards on 11 attempts, and fullback Tyler Martin had 20 yards on four carries to go along with his usual terrific defense from his linebacker position.
Sammy Malignaggi rushes for a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Jared Silverio sneaks the ball in from a yard out in the fourth quarter.
— Obviously, for a program in BB&N that expected to do great things this season, sitting with a .500 record after four games is disappointing.
But Knights coach Mike Willey said that his team does not have any time to feel sorry for itself.
"So, right now, you find out who you are, right?" Willey said. "You can mope, and you can be upset, and tuck yourself between your legs, or we can go back to work on next week and get ready to prepare. I know our guys will respond and get to work."