Players and coaches on the Nantucket football team knew going into their round one state tournament game against the Cohasset Skippers Friday afternoon that there was little room for error and mistakes if they wanted to extend their stay in the postseason. They played the Skippers tough and at times looked to be on the verge of taking a lead before falling to Cohasset 26-13.
“I thought the first half was really good,” defensive coordinator Mark Willett said. “One defensive mistake on our part really. Cohasset is a tough football team. They are always hard to play against and they are well coached but I thought our kids fought.”
The game began with strong defense. Nantucket stopped Cohasset on downs on the opening drive of the game, but the Skippers answered by forcing a three-and-out. It gave Cohasset excellent field position on Nantucket’s 40-yard line midway through the first quarter.
Cohasset took full advantage of the short field given to them by a mediocre punt when quarterback Will Baker finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to put the Whalers in a 7-0 hole after one quarter of play.
Cohasset knocked Whaler quarterback Carlos Aguilar out of the game early in the second quarter, which forced Nantucket to simplify their offense. Aguilar was looking for wide receiver JJ Bennett deep down the left sideline when he left himself vulnerable to the Skipper’s pass rusher. The pass was intercepted and taken back to Nantucket’s 41 yard line.
The Whaler defense continued to be stout up front, clogging up holes and swarming the ball carrier with four or five defenders every snap. The tenacity was too much for the Skippers and forced them to punt, wasting the short field given to them after the interception.
Nantucket was unable to move the ball on the ensuing drive and punted the ball right back to Cohasset.
Nantucket appeared to get another stop on Cohasset, which would have forced the Skippers to punt the ball back to the Whalers with two minutes left in the half, giving Nantucket a chance to make it a 7-7 ball game while also receiving the opening kickoff of the second half.
But a bad horse-collar penalty on 3rd and 13 extended the Cohasset drive. The Skipper’s burned some clock but eventually Baker found wide receiver Jamie Smith down the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown pass to make it a 13-0 game after missing the extra point with 47 seconds left.
That score would stay 13-0 going into halftime.
The Whalers had other injuries they were dealing with aside from their starting quarterback. Strong safety Garner Ray, who was making plays all over the field for most of the first half, was knocked out of the game for over a quarter with a shoulder injury. He returned in the second half. Starting lineman Sawyer Corby, who Whaler head coach Joe Perry is on record as saying is the leader of the linemen group on his team, sustained an injury on the first drive of the game that he had to manage all game long.
“Garner hurt his shoulder with minor separation, gets it back in, tapes it back up, ices it a little at halftime, and comes back into the game begging me to play strong safety,” Willett said. “If we had 10 other Garners we would be going to Gillette. He is such a tough kid.”
Wide receiver Makai Bodden took over as quarterback in the second half for backup quarterback Manny Almonte. The move didn’t do much at first as Nantucket was forced to punt the ball away on their opening second half drive.
Cohasset continued to have trouble running the football but found themselves wanting to go for it rather than punt on a fourth and one opportunity. Baker tried to run it up the middle on an option play but was met by four Whaler defenders before crossing the first down marker, giving Nantucket the ball on the Skipper’s 39-yard line with an opportunity to work with a short field.
A strange sequence of events happened afterwards. Nantucket fumbled the ball on the next play, and then senior linebacker Justin Zadroga picked off Baker on the play after that to give Nantucket the ball back at Cohasset’s 39-yard line.
Nantucket didn’t squander this opportunity though. Senior running back Justin Bloise, who had two or three defenders around him all game long, finally broke free on a 35-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 13-7 with 5:14 left in the third quarter.
The Whalers stopped Cohasset again and had the opportunity to take the lead if they could score on a second consecutive drive, but the offense was unable to do anything with the ball.
Cohasset got the ball back with 10:50 left in the game and added another touchdown on a one-yard run by Baker three minutes later to make it a 19-7 game. Baker and the Skippers got the ball back again and made it 26-7 with 2:15 left in the game off a 37-yard Baker touchdown run.
Bodden did end the game with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ray. Ray has been the heart and soul for this Whaler team all season and was rewarded with the late score.
“We got some young guys like Jayquan (Francis) coming up and Carlos is a young quarterback who is only going to get better,” Willett said. “There are kids that are coming up who are going to be really good players. Griffin Fox is going to be exceptional next year. We are going to be alright. We aren’t going anywhere.”