The defense of 8th grade Team Massachusetts stole the show Saturday afternoon, scoring two touchdowns on turnovers and shutting out rival Connecticut 32-0 in the third round of the FBU National Championship.
The Massachusetts offense set the tone early, with backup quarterback Mike Piazza throwing passes of 25 and 30 yards on their first two plays from scrimmage and capping the drive with a seven-yard TD run by Massachusetts' Ed Duggan.
"[Piazza's] first two throws started the game off right," Massachusetts head coach Andrew Nashawaty told his team after the game. "They got the corners all screwed up."
But it was Massachusetts' defense that proved to be the difference in the game. Connecticut struggled to put together any sort of offensive drive all day, keeping mostly to the ground and putting the ball in the hands of All-American running back Douglas Harrison III.
"We were very worried about [Harrison]," Nashawaty said, "but the defensive line really held up today."
Connecticut head coach Ron Marsilio said his team had trouble gaining any sort of momentum.
"This was one of those times when the wheels came off real early," Marsilio said after the game. "They lost confidence and started making some serious mistakes -- ones we hadn't seen at all in practice."
One of those serious mistakes included a costly turnover late in the second quarter, when an option pitch from Connecticut quarterback Colton Nicholas sailed over the shoulder of his running back and was scooped up by Massachusetts' Sammy Malignaggi. Malignaggi ran the ball in for a touchdown to make the score 12-0 Massachusetts.
On the next drive, Nicholas threw an errant pass directly into the chest of Massachusetts cornerback Ruben Baez. The turnover set up a quick two-play, 63-yard TD drive that ended with a 2-yard run from running back Bryce Gallagher.
"The whole team played really well," said Gallagher, who had two TDs on the day. "Everyone was making plays."
For the remainder of the game, Nicholas was shaky in the pocket, which Marsilio acknowledged after the game.
"[Nicholas] was getting frustrated and not looking off his receivers," he said.
With Gallagher's second touchdown at the end of the third quarter, Massachusetts jumped to a 26-0 lead. The nail in the coffin came two plays later, when a Connecticut fumble was recovered in the end zone by Massachusetts and stretched the score to 32-0.
"Once we got that last scoop and score, I knew it was over," Gallagher said. "I felt them let up after that."
Marsilio said he was proud of how his Connecticut team played, despite the loss.
"That's football," he said.
Massachusetts will face the winner of Saturday night's semi-final matchup between Indiana and Maryland on Sunday.
Written By Youth1 Contributor Sam Hedenberg
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