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Hawks edge Tigers in thrilling season opener

by Kristian Lundberg
For a brief moment on Friday, Sept. 9, it seemed as if the impossible would occur, that somehow, the football gods would gift-wrap a win for the Tigers in their season opener.
Then, with a deep fade, Waltham managed to spoil the Tigers’ dramatic comeback.
Waltham’s junior Junior Chery made a diving catch in the end zone with two seconds left, allowing the Hawks to escape with a thrilling 26-20 victory to win the Doc Cohn Trophy. The Tigers scored 20 consecutive points to battle back from a 19-0 fourth quarter deficit, but, with the game on the line, they were unable to stop the Hawks on fourth down.
“The kids played hard, and we made up our minds in the fourth quarter that we were going to hit people,” coach Peter Capodilupo said.
“We just didn’t stop them on fourth down.”
Up 20-19 with under a minute left in the game, the Tigers’ defense forced a fourth down and six on their own 42 but expected that the Hawks would attempt a short-range pass to pick up the first down. Instead, Waltham sent all of its receivers deep, catching the Tigers’ cornerbacks off guard.
The Hawks quarterback senior Kyle Nocera lofted a deep pass to receiver senior Lawrence Lamisere, who made a spectacular leaping catch at the 12 to keep Waltham alive. Two plays later, Chery scored with virtually no time remaining.
The most surprising aspect of the game was that the Tigers, who were lifeless on offense for the first three quarters, were capable of mustering a comeback.
The Tigers’ offense in the first half was marred by costly turnovers. An interception in the first quarter led to Waltham’s second touchdown, while a muffed punt in the second quarter allowed the Hawks to extend their lead to 19-0. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ defense struggled at stopping the Hawks’ senior running back Darius Holloway in the first half.
“They have a great running back,” Capodilupo said. “We were better at containing him in the second half.”
With 9:20 left in the game, senior quarterback Ryan Byrne, bottled up all night by a quick Waltham secondary, fired a screen pass over to senior Nate Menninger, who had lined up as a running back for most of the game. Menninger bolted into the secondary, broke two tackles and scampered the rest of the way to the end zone. His 60-yard dash trimmed the deficit to 19-7, but the Tigers weren’t even close to finished.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Tigers regained the ball and Byrne suddenly hit his stride. Breaking out of the team’s run-heavy offense, Byrne dissected the Hawks through the air, driving the Tigers to the Waltham 18. On a fourth and 13, Byrne found senior Orion Wagner over the middle, and Wagner dived into the end zone with 5:05 left to cut the gap to five.
A blocked punt on the ensuing Waltham possession set up the Tigers perfectly at the Hawks’ 1, and the team punched it in from there, with Menninger notching his second touchdown to put the Tigers ahead for the first and only time in the game.
Of course, none of that matters in the win/loss column.
“This shows that we can’t give up in games, and we always have to be ready to play,” Capodilupo said.
“We made some small mistakes in the first half, and they became big mistakes. We have to work on the small things to improve the bigger things.”
Sitting among the raucous fans from this school was mayor Setti Warren, who had placed a friendly bet on the game with Waltham mayor Jeannette McCarthy. At stake was dinner at Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton or The Chateau restaurant in Waltham.
Despite facing a 19-0 deficit at halftime, Warren, an ’88 grad, remained optimistic.
“I have faith in the team. I’m predicting a big comeback,” he said.

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