Abington’s 26-21 victory over Saint Mary’s of Lynn was one of the biggest and most thrilling victories of Head Coach Jim Kelliher’s coaching cacareer – and he wasn’t even there for it.
Forced to stay home in COVID-related quarantine as a precaution, Kelliher watched Abington Community Access & Media’s live broadcast from Quincy’s Veterans Stadium as his 2021 squad came back twice in the second half to advance to the Division 6 Super Bowl.
Still in their uniforms, the Green Wave football team brought its celebration direct to the front lawn of Kelliher’s Dorsey Street home, where the beaming coach held a Green Wave football flag.
“Awesome job tonight, awesome job as a team,” Kelliher told the team from a safe distance. “You guys did a great job. You deserve everything that’s going to be coming to you. But we got some big ones still ahead.
“Congratulations for all the hard work. You can see that it pays off. But we still have a ways to go. But enjoy tonight. You guys did an awesome job.”
Abington will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Rockland and Blackstone Valley at Gillette Stadium in the Division 6 Super Bowl. The exact date and time has not yet been decided.
It took two touchdowns from Drew Donovan, tough running from Isaiah Ricketson, and some clutch defense and special teams work to overcome a pair of second-half deficits. Abington, which played a near perfect game last week against Sandwich, had to contend with a pair of fumbles – one of which was recovered – a couple dropped passes, and multiple penalties. Momentum shifts, critical turnovers, and close calls elevated the game from a hard-fought battle on a cold November night into an instant classic.
St. Mary’s started fast, taking the opening kick 31 yards up the field. The Spartans’ option-heavy running game, which gave the Green Wave fits all night, raced down the field, with senior quarterback Ali Berry sprinting in from 13 yards out to give St. Mary’s a quick 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.
Abington’s first drive appeared to stall near mid-field, but a St. Mary’s pass interference call on fourth and seven gave the Green Wave new life. Abington’s powerful running trio of Ricketson, Kurtis Lucas-Summers, and Mason Kilmain traded hand-offs to move to the 2. The offensive line plowed a big hole open for Ricketson for Abington’s first six points of the day. The attempt at a two-point conversion was no good, however, as the referees said Lucas-Summers knees were down before he reached over the goal line.
The Green Wave defense stiffened allowing St. Marys to gain just eight yards before Berry threw an incompletion on 4th down. Starting on the Spartans’ 38, Abington quickly advanced to the 20 when Ricketson fumbled, gving the ball back to St. Mary’s on their own 17. Abington had no answers for Spartans junior running back David Brown, who ran for 68 yards on the subsequent 83-yard scoring drive, culminating with a sprint to the left pylon from the 1-yard line.
The 11-play drive ate up almost nine minutes of clock and put St. Mary’s up 14-6. Brown finished the game with 164 rushing yards on 20 carries.
Abington quickly went three-and-out, giving St Mary’s some time before the half. The Spartans advanced to the Green Wave 32 before Donovan intercepted a long pass on the final play of the first half.
Assistant Coach Ed Reilly said the coaching staff didn’t have to say anything to the players in the locker room at halftime. The scoreboard said 14-6, St. Mary’s, but the gap between the two teams up to that point felt wider.
“The kids knew we weren’t tackling well. We weren’t playing tough Green Wave football,” he said. “We go in the locker room and the seniors took over. They’ve been taking over all year. They came out and they wanted it.”
Abington came out for the second half angry and quickly changed the entire feel of the game. Starting on their own 27, and playing a no-huddle offense, the Green Wave picked up 24 yards on a Kilmain run, 29 yards on a run by Ricketson, and 14 more yards on another run by Kilmain. Senior quarterback Eddie Reilly rolled to his left and found Donovan in the corner of the endzone for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Lucas-Summers converted the 2-point try, and the game was tied 14-14 midway through the 3rd.
St. Mary’s looked poised to respond, following a 44-yard run by Brown off the right edge down to the Abington 9. A quarterback keeper by Berry brought the ball to the six. That’s when the Green Wave defense got tough. Brown was tackled by what appeared to be half of the Abington team for a 9-yard loss. Berry was then chased backwards about 10 yards before he threw the ball away. And on 4th and 15 from the 15 yard line, St. Mary’s fumbled with Abington recovering the ball.
The Green Wave offense picked up whetre it left off on the previous drive, with Ricketson rushing for 16 yards on first down. A 7-yard gain by Kilmain brought the ball out to the Abington 40. Donovan, who has been battling injuries the last few games, then took a hand-off 60 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. The run gave Abington its first lead of the game, 20-14, with 3:02 left in the third quarter. The point-after attempt was no good.
St. Mary’s actually lost yardage on its next drive, going three-and-out. But Abington couldn’t capitalize, punting the ball right back. Starting on the Abington 49, the Spartans’ two-man offense of Brown and Berry went to work, picking up big chunks of yardage. Berry rushed in from 9 yards out to tie the game, and the successful point after attempt gave St. Mary’s the lead once again 21-20 with nine minutes left.
Starting at its own 31, Abington moved the ball steadily with Kilmain contributing yet another big run, this one for 10 yards, followed by runs of eight and nine yards by Ricketson.
The younger Reilly said after the game that St. Mary’s had been playing them with press coverage and two high safeties, a scheme his fellow co-captain Tommy Fanara felt he could exploit.
On second and 10 from the St. Mary’s 41, Reilly threw a deep ball that Fanara – who had blown past the two safeties – ran under for a 37-yard completion that gave Abington a first down on the 4-yard line.
“He was telling me all game, ‘If we keep running these, Im going to get that safety, and Im going to cut that thing up’,” Reilly said. “He says ‘I’m beating this kid off the line’ and I knew he’d be there. I just put it there.”
Lucas-Summers gave Abington the lead for good with a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle.
St. Mary’s fielded the kickoff cleanly, but then coughed it up during the return, giving the ball right back to an ecstatic Green Wave squad at the St. Mary’s 42. Lucas-Summers immediately ripped off a 22-yard run, followed by runs of five yards and four yards by Ricketson. Referees gave Abington a conservative spot making it 4th and 1. A sneak by Reilly, who had pulled up gimpy a couple plays earlier, was stuffed by St. Mary’s, and suddenly the re-energized Spartans had the ball back with 2:55 on the clock.
The Green Wave defense again rose to the occaision. Following a 7-yard gain by Brown, Spartans running back Donovan Clark was dropped for a 3-yard loss. Abington senior lineman John LaRosa then sacked Berry for a 14-yard loss, pinning St. Mary’s back on their own 4. Co-Captain Shea McClellan sealed the win for Abington, batting away a fourth-down pass by Berry. Reilly took two quick knees and the celebration was on for Abington.
“Shea McClellan made the biggest play of his life to get us to Gillette [Stadium],” said Reilly, who was also a member of the Green Wave baseball squad that went to the state finals last spring.
Ricketson, who finished with 117 yards rushing and a touchdown, was all smiles after the game thinking about going to his first Super Bowl as a player.
“It’s crazy. It’s all I dreamed about as a kid,” he said.
Reilly was in tears talking about what it means to help guide the Green Wave football team to another Super Bowl.
“I’ve been around this program since I was born with my dad,” he said, referencing Ed Reilly, the team’s long-time assistant coach. “I was a water boy when I was like 5 years old. And now we’re going to the state championship. It’s surreal. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of forever.”
The older Reilly was also very emotional following the victory, talking about the impact Kelliher’s abscence had on the team.
“We all love him so much. It kills me he wasnt here. We played so hard for him,” Reilly said. “He’s done so much for this town, so much for these kids, so much for me as a person. I’m just so happy we did it. I’m happy for the kids, I’m happy for our fans, they’ve been unbelievable.”
Ricketson said Kelliher’s absence provided the team a little extra motivation to keep the season going
“It was more motivation to keep going,” he said. ” We love Coach Kell. We want to play for him again, that’s all we were thinking.”