By Jeff Kiesling
The Dover-Sherborn varsity football team’s incredible and improbable unbeaten run came to an end on Saturday, November 19, against the Shawsheen Valley Tech Rams in the semi-final round of the MIAA Division 5 playoffs. The Raiders mounted a fierce comeback in the second half to tie the game at 14 points apiece, only to see the game slip away after the Rams managed a late score that the Raiders could not answer.
The game was played on a perfect late-autumn day and both sets of stands were full, with the loyalties appearing to be evenly split. The fans were engaged and vocal from start to finish — and they stayed until the very end because the game became a thriller that was still undecided until the final desperate possessions. That outcome did not seem likely at halftime, when the Rams led the Raiders by two scores.
Harry Dummer keyed the Raider defense early with an interception, but DS could not take advantage. For much of the first half the teams traded possessions up and down the field, with each team picking up first downs (some on some fourth and ten) — but neither was able to put points on the scoreboard. That changed with around five minutes remaining in the second quarter when the Rams took advantage of a DS fumble and scored after a short drive to gain a 7-0 lead.
It looked as if the Raiders might respond with a score of their own when they drove down the field on their next possession with a mix of runs and short passes. That changed quickly, however, when a Rams defender intercepted the ball deep and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown. The score at the half was Shawsheen 14, Dover-Sherborn zero.
Despite its predicament, the fact that the DS defense had held the explosive and high-scoring Rams offense to a single score was of some consolation. Also, the Raiders offense had appeared to figure things out on their final drive before the untimely pick. In any event, whatever Head Coach Steve Ryan and his staff said to the team at halftime worked. The Raiders appeared unshaken and ready to force their way back into the game when they returned to the field to begin the second half.
The Raider defense kicked off the comeback with 7:45 to go in the third quarter when Chris Kiesling knocked the ball loose from a Rams running back with a jarring hit in the backfield. LB Mekhi Robinson recovered the ball for DS at the Rams’ 35 and the Raiders offense went to work.
DS rolled down the field, relying on running back Michael Polk, and scored (but missed the extra point) to close the gap to 14-6 at just under 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. At the 2:25 mark, special teams contributed to the effort when the unit forced a fumble after a long punt to give DS the ball back, but the Raiders could not take advantage. The teams traded possessions until the Raider offense again caught traction and moved the ball down inside the 10 on a throw from QB Garrett Webb to Brian Olson, and inside the 5 on a run by Polk. Despite the outcome, what happened next was the highlight of the slugfest between the two unbeatens and the most amazing play in DS’ amazing season.
Webb was unable to handle the snap and the ball squirted into the Raiders’ backfield — but it bounced into Polk’s arms, where he stood lined up behind Webb in the formation. Seeing daylight only to his right side, Polk took off toward the right front corner of the end-zone. As he broke free, a defensive back closed on him quickly and was about to deliver a big hit. Just before he did, however, Polk spotted Emilio Cabey to his right with a clear path to the end-zone. Polk pitched the ball at the last moment and Cabey waltzed in, untouched, to make the score 14-12. Desperately wanting to pull back to even, DS risked it and decided to go for a two-point conversion to tie the game. The Raiders converted when QB Ronan Richards hit Cabey with a short toss and catch on the left side, knotting the game at 14.
With five and a half minutes remaining, DS had seized all the momentum. It seemed they would at least force the game to overtime and possibly somehow manage to win it in regulation. The Raiders’ hopes were dashed however by what happened next. The Rams bobbled the kick-off return and DS recovered at the 15-yard line, poised to score, and complete their comeback. Unfortunately, Dover-Sherborn’s luck ran out on the very next play when they fumbled the ball back to the Rams defense.
The Rams offense had 5:00 left to score and was able to churn out a time-consuming drive capped by a 30-yard TD pass (caught despite excellent coverage) with 2:00 to go. DS would have to score in short order to stay alive, but they could not and turned the ball over on downs. In the end, Shawsheen kneeled out the clock and claimed a 21-14 win.
Dover Sherborn would later defeat Medfield High School on Thanksgiving Day by the score of 28-14 to finish the season with an 11-1 record.
This story was generously contributed by a member of the Dover-Sherborn community. Hometown Weekly welcomes the submission of varsity sports photos and game stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.