By Chris Coyle
The Abington High School Football program’s night began wonderful, with a special celebration marking the 500th game of legendary coach Jim Kelliher’s career.
But the Rockland Bulldogs were the skunks in the garden party, defeating the Green Wave 17-7 in a battle of the undefeateds.
Members of Kelliher’s immediate and extended family, as well as dozens of former players, joined the 2021 Green Wave football team at midfield to honor him. Members of his first squad – from 1974 – were in hand to present Kelliher a commemorative football. Coincidentally, Game 1 of Kelliher’s career was also against the Bulldogs of Rockland, but the outcome of that game was different.
Friday’s game, played before a full crowd at historic Memorial Field, featured two stingy defenses that controlled the pace of play for much of the night.
Rockland was able to get on the board first, in the opening drive of the game. The Bulldogs offensive line recovered a fumble by their own QB, Michael Moriarty, to set up the key play of the drive. Facing 4th & 4 at the Abington 45, Jacob Coulstring took the handoff for a 31-yard run down to the 15. The Abington defense stiffened here, and held Rockland to a 30-yard field goal from Jerry Esposito, to give Rockland a 3-0 lead.
The turning point of the game occurred later in the first half. Following a 13-yard Rockland punt, Abington took over at the Bulldogs 35-yard line. They were set back by a holding penalty, but that was quickly erased as Green Wave senior quarterback Eddie Reilly found Mike VanLuling for a 27-yard gain into the red zone. Powered by an 8-yard run from Kurtis Lucas-Summers, Abington had 1st & Goal from the 8. However, Abington was unable to punch it in. Reilly was sacked for a loss of 13 on 4th & Goal, after his receiver appeared to slip breaking on his route. Rockland took full opportunity of this, marching 83 yards on four plays for a score in just over a minute. Runs of 21 and 32 yards by Lucas Leander were sandwiched around an 11-yard carry by Coulstring. This would lead to a 19-yard touchdown run by Leander, with the PAT making it 10-0.
Abington appeared to seize the momentum to open the 2nd half, as Dasean Leggett returned the opening kickoff 56 yards to the Rockland 31-yard line. However, after a 4th down conversion to Drew Donovan was wiped out by a block-in-the-back penalty, the Green Wave turned it over on downs.
Midway through the 3rd quarter, Abington caught an unlucky break. After forcing a Bulldog punt, the ball came down short and hit the arm of Lucas-Summers, with Rockland recovering it at midfield. Although they weren’t able to convert it into points, they were able to run down the clock through the end of the third quarter, eventually turning it over on downs at the 10-yard line. The Green Wave subsequently were able to move the ball from deep in their own territory with receptions by Donovan (a 3rd & 5 conversion) followed by a VanLuling catch and run for 20 yards. On the tackle, the Bulldogs received a 15-yard personal foul penalty, taking the ball into Rockland territory. However, a miscommunication on the next play led to an interception by Coulstring.
Rockland was essentially able to put the game away on the ensuing possession. Following offsetting holding penalties on 4th & 6 from their own 28 (on a rare defensive holding penalty called on a run outside the numbers), Leander took a direct snap and ran by the Green Wave defense for a 72-yard touchdown run, making the score 17-0 with under three minutes to go.
Abington was able to get on the board on their following drive. Donovan returned the kickoff 45 yards and setup the Green Wave in Bulldog territory. That was immediately followed by a 45-yard touchdown pass from Reilly to Isaiah Ricketson out of the backfield. The Green Wave was able to bring the excitement back into the crowd following the touchdown as Donovan’s perfectly executed onside kick was recovered by Jack Robbins. However, after a 3rd down conversion to VanLuling kept the drive going, Reilly’s desperation heave on 4th down resulted in an interception by PJ Celestino, extinguishing the comeback chance for Abington.
The Green Wave now fall to 4-1 on the season and will return to action on Thursday, Oct. 14, when they visit East Bridgewater.
[Disclosure: Chris Coyle is a member of the Abington School Committee]