by Kristian Lundberg
Fifteen minutes after the final whistle, nothing could wipe the smile off of Brookline senior Stephen O’Neal’s face.
“I HATE Newton North. I hate ‘em. Make sure you spell that with all-caps in the newspaper,” he said, grinning broadly. “This year was not a fluke—this is just the beginning.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers, tired and grim-faced, hurried off Brookline’s Parsons Field, too eager to avoid the mass of Warriors’ fans celebrating near the 20-yard line. The Tigers’ fans, who had outnumbered their Brookline counterparts in both enthusiasm and magnitude, were long gone, as were their team’s hopes of salvaging some solace from a disappointing season.
Such was the juxtaposition in the 117th year of the North-Brookline Thanksgiving Day rivalry, in which Brookline recovered from a sloppy first quarter to hammer the Tigers with an offensive onslaught, winning 32-19. Brookline sophomore Nick Scott scored four touchdowns, while O’Neal added one of his own, and both rushers eclipsed 100 yards on the ground as they combined to torch the Tigers’ defense.
Senior Nate Menninger returned from a leg injury to lead the Tigers in total yardage, but by the later stages of the game, the Tigers were forced to forgo their run-heavy offense in an attempt to engineer a comeback. However, the Tigers committed two costly turnovers in the fourth quarter to thwart what little momentum they had left.
“It’s like a death of a thousand cuts, instead of one good cut to the neck,” coach Peter Capodilupo said. “They deserved to win. It’s a bad time to have caught them because they won four of their last five.”
After receiving the second-half kick with the score knotted at 19, O’Neal and Scott started to take over. Operating primarily out of the Wildcat formation, the duo ran variations of the quarterback option, stretching the Tigers’ defense thin as they marched down the field. Finally, Scott took a direct snap from the Tigers’ 18 and strolled untouched into the end zone, giving Brookline its first lead of the game.
It was a lead the Warriors never relinquished.
Buoyed by the Brookline fans, who had suddenly come alive after remaining silent for most of the first half, the Warriors’ defense stuffed the Tigers on their ensuing possession, forcing a turnover on downs at the Brookline 23. From there, the Tigers were unable to stop the Warriors’ two-headed rushing attack, as O’Neal, deadly all game out of the Wildcat, raced 38 yards to the Tigers’ 18 on a key third-and-eight. From there, Scott took care of the rest, punching in his fourth score to pad the Warriors’ lead with 6:55 left in the third quarter.
“I think the difference in the second half was more mental,” Scott said. “Once you do something great, we got the crowd into it, and we could hold on to that momentum.”
The Tigers’ comeback efforts stalled in the fourth quarter, thanks to two bad breaks. With senior quarterback Ryan Byrne leading the charge, the Tigers marched down to the Brookline 32 with 6:30 left in the game. But, just when the Tigers appeared to be within striking distance, they fumbled the snap for the fourth time in the game, and Brookline pounced on the loose ball. The Warriors subsequently milked five minutes off the clock, and, by the time the Tigers retained possession with under two minutes left, the ending was not in the slightest doubt. Scott, a standout defensively as well, intercepted a Byrne pass with 1:17 remaining to seal the Warriors’ triumph.
“Nick Scott played like a whirlwind—he probably had the best game of his life,” Capodilupo said. “We were worried that they would be quicker than us as a team, and my fear was that we wouldn’t be able to contain him. He ran the ball with reckless abandon and a lot of speed.”
Scott, who finished with 32 carries for 228 yards, shifted the credit to his blockers.
“Our line has been grinding all season, and they did a great job today,” he said. “The four touchdowns I had really belong to them.”
Scott’s performance was enough to call him “the best sophomore in the state,” according to Brookline coach Kevin Mahoney.
“Nick is a fantastic athlete, and he did a fantastic job,” Mahoney said. “Before the game, we thought we had the best athletes, and it showed.”
From the way the first quarter unfolded, none of the Warriors’ offensive fireworks seemed possible. The Warriors struggled to move the chains early on, while the Tigers offered their own exhibition on offense, scoring on their first and third possessions. After the Tigers’ extended their opening drive by recovering a muffed punt at their own 44, Byrne found Menninger wide open on a screen pass, and the senior tailback raced down the right sideline for six.
Two possessions later, a heroic defensive stop by Menninger punctuated sophomore Joe Mariano’s two-yard touchdown plunge. After Brookline junior Denzel David blocked the ensuing extra-point attempt, Menninger raced back in pursuit, tackling David inside the 5-yard line to keep the Tigers’ lead at 13-0.
The Warriors responded quickly. O’Neal converted a key fourth down deep in Tigers’ territory on a quarterback keeper, extending the Warriors’ drive. Scott scored two plays later, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 13-7 with 10 minutes left in the half.
From that point until the end of the half, the Tigers and Warriors traded touchdowns like baseball cards. Less than two minutes later, Menninger scored a highlight-reel touchdown of his own from 69 yards out. Menninger burst through the line of scrimmage, dodged two would-be tacklers and outran the defense the rest of the way, jaunting into the end zone for his second score. However, his extra point was blocked for the second time.
“It was nice to get Nate back from injury,” Capodilupo said. “Still, we had to do more to win than just give him the ball.”
On the next play from scrimmage, Scott took a hand-off and bolted up the middle, sprinting past the Tigers’ secondary in a footrace to the end zone. Although Scott was finally stopped at the Tigers’ 4, his 74-yard run gave his team some much-needed momentum. Scott scored two plays later, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 19-13.
On the Warriors’ next possession, following a Tigers’ punt, O’Neal also registered a long scoring run of his own, taking a direct snap out of the Wildcat 58 yards for a touchdown. Although the extra point sailed wide left, the Warriors had tied the game heading into the half.
From then on, Scott ruled the day.
“To be down 13-0, then outscore them 32-6, proved that they could be resilient,” Mahoney said. “We were kind of down on ourselves, but the kids just persevered.”
Scott added, “I think, up 13, down 13, it doesn’t make a difference. We had come back so many times that we believed we would still win.”
The win marked a huge victory for a Brookline team that had started the season 0-6, while the Tigers left Parsons Field with a mix of frustration and dejection. For the second consecutive time on Brookline’s home turf, the Tigers had fallen to a Brookline team undergoing a long rebuilding phase.
“If you can’t stop someone else from running the ball down your throat, it’s going to be a slow, painful death,” Capodilupo said.
As the Tigers boarded the buses for the long ride home, he added softly, “Probably the worst death to die.”