EASTON — As the Southeastern Regional and West Bridgewater High football teams gathered at midfield postgame for the Thanksgiving trophy ceremony, the two head coaches chose a game MVP from each team.
For Southeastern (3-8), it was its top downfield threat, junior receiver Joey Tully, whose three receptions yielded 78 yards.
For West Bridgewater (8-3), the choice was unanimous. Without question, it was junior James Harris.
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The 6-foot, 170-pound quarterback dominated with nine keepers for 181 rushing yards and all five of the team’s touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 35-13 win, as West Bridgewater maintains a four-year winning streak in the rivalry since it began in 2017 (there was no game in 2020).
“I think that puts him right about 20 touchdowns on the season,” head coach Justin Kogler said of Harris. “He’s a great athlete, he’s fast, he reads his blocks, he runs hard – he’s really a perfect quarterback for our offense. He does a nice job.”
As West Bridgewater held a 14-13 lead after a 21-yard field goal from Southeastern’s Ryan Desmond with 6:12 to go in the third quarter, Harris cranked his production to another level.
On the ensuing drive, the junior faked the hand-off to Sean Carter, veered left and battled through contact to score a 6-yard touchdown at the 1:59 mark of the third. It was just the first downfall of a three-part avalanche that produced 21 unanswered points, all scored on Harris’ runs, to seal the win.
“We’re blessed to have a quarterback like him, who can run the option well,” senior running back Will DeLuca said. “We really had a triple threat with (Sean) Carter, me and James in the backfield – we saw today, it’s kind of unstoppable.”
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Harris scored a 35-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, and as the linebacker Carter stomped out a Southeastern third-down with a tackle for loss on the Hawks’ following drive to foreshadow an eventual turnover on downs, Harris came back midway through the fourth quarter and, like an instant replay, duplicated the prior 35-yard TD play to boost West Bridgewater’s lead to 35-13 with 5:37 to play.
“It starts with the blocking,” Harris deflected the spotlight to seniors Brandon Lagrange, Cole Chadwick, Jesse Ames, Berdy Charles and junior Aidan Burke. “The blocking is really well-executed and I’ve got backs behind me that do their job well, and they’re also threats, so it draws the (defense) down and it makes it pretty easy to go and score those.”
In their final games, DeLuca carried the ball 17 times for 137 yards and Carter went for 30 yards on six hand-offs.
“(The run game) has been our powerhouse,” added Harris. “Our line may not be the biggest line out there, but theyre definitely the hardest-working people I’ve played with. They do their job well and it leads all the way through.”
On top of Harris’ explosion, second-half interceptions by the senior linebacker tandem of Nathan Anderson and Nate Hancock powered the West Bridgewater pull-away, capping their high school careers in fashion.
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“Honestly, I couldn’t be happier,” said DeLuca, also a contributor on defense at linebacker. “I mean, it’s coming to an end and it hasn’t hit me yet but it’s a great win. I know the rest of my life, I’ll be happy we won our final game versus Southeastern.”
Southeastern mounted up some momentum in the second quarter, battling back after the Wildcats bursted out to a 14-0 lead to open the game on TD runs of 49 yards and 11 yards from Harris. Senior quarterback Nick Levine scored a 3-yard TD at the 7:15 mark of the second to get the Hawks on the scoreboard, then back-to-back field goals from Ryan Desmond brought Southeastern within one point, 14-13, with 6:12 to go in the third.
Levine completed six of his 15 passes for 136 yards and two interceptions, while junior running back Tristan Ortega got into the passing game for 58 yards on three catches which stacked onto his 38 rushing yards on 11 carries to make for a solid day. Senior running back Thomas Hustins ran 11 times for 45 yards in the loss.
West Bridgewater, which now finishes the season at 8-3, also won last year’s matchup by a 56-26 margin.
“Battle of the (Route) 106’s. I think it’s cool we’re a school half their size and we come out here and compete and win,” said DeLuca.
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The Wildcats bid farewell to 13 seniors: Carter, DeLuca, Anderson, Hancock, Lagrange, Chadwick, Ames, Charles, receiver Jayden Cobbs, lineman Jack Campbell, lineman Justin Estano, lineman Junior Duarte and running back Tristan McQuade.
The loss also marks the end of the road for 10 Hawks: Levine, Hustins, running back Bradley Pierre, receiver Jaden Curtis, defensive back Jaiden Fortes, lineman Dillion Schillberg, lineman Antonio Wright, lineman Daniel Couture and lineman Jerry Hale.
“I don’t think it’ll hit them for another hour or two that it’s actually over. But they’ll have good memories of their last game,” Kogler said.
DeLuca, in particular, backed that up.
“(The team means) more than I can put into words. I’ve put my heart and soul into (this), starting as a freshman until now. It’s been my life so I’ve put everything into it,” DeLuca said. “Coach has been amazing these four years. I was the first to have him for four years and he’s really transformed this program into one that can compete with teams in Div. 6, Div. 5 and I’m honestly so excited to see where this program goes after this.”