HINGHAM — With a state championship game looming in nine days, the Hull High football team could have played it safe on Thanksgiving.
But where’s the fun in that?
Instead, the Pirates threw caution to the wind, suited up all their stars and emerged with both their perfect record and their health intact.
Quarterback Luke Richardson threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to John Gianibas to break a 10-10 fourth-quarter tie and then added an insurance score himself on a 1-yard TD run as Hull beat Cohasset, 24-10, to clinch the program’s first South Shore League Tobin Division crown since 1996.
It also was Hull’s first win on Thanksgiving since 2009.
Most importantly, no Pirates appeared to get banged up for next Saturday’s Division 8 state final against KIPP Academy (10 a.m. at Gillette Stadium).
“We’re built different,” Gianibas said. “I don’t think anybody’s injured now. We played hard. That’s the point of the game.”
Last year Hull lost the Div. 8 Super Bowl to Randolph. To prepare for that game, the Pirates rested their starters – and suffered a 42-0 loss on Thanksgiving. This year, with another trip to Gillette Stadium on the horizon, Hull took a different approach and was rewarded.
Hull coach Mike O’Donnell said the game, which was played at Hingham High since Cohasset’s turf field is being renovated, was “very important” to his seniors, who have now checked off two of their three big goals — win the Tobin title and end the holiday drought. Item Number 3, of course, is winning the Super Bowl.
That chance lies just around the corner. On this day, though, the Pirates were content to revel in some regular-season success.
“It was hard for last year’s seniors not to play on Thanksgiving,” receiver/linebacker Austin Bongo said. “We understood (why Hull used its JV players last year). This year our coach knew he needed to play us.”
“This was huge, the biggest game of our lives,” agreed senior linebacker Aidan Murphy who had a team-high 12 tackles. “I will not lie to you. We all knew that. That’s why we played so hard and came out with such intensity because we knew what was at stake and we knew what we had to do.”
Cohasset (8-3) did a good job of keeping Hull’s powerful ground game under wraps. The Pirates managed just 84 yards on 26 carries for a 3.2-yard average. But Richardson picked up the slack with the passing game, completing 10 of 14 attempts for 201 yards. In the second half he was 5 for 5 for 124 yards and a score.
The Skippers weren’t much better on the ground, mustering just 75 yards on 25 attempts (3.0-yard average), led by junior running back Liam Appleton (9 carries for 43 yards) and QB Will Baker (15 carries for 29 yards, TD). Baker provided most of the offense with his arm, going 11 of 18 for 211 yards with an INT.
Baker finished the season with 36 touchdowns, split evenly between rushing and throwing. Unofficially, he’s at 1,736 passing yards and 1,278 rushing yards. The 6-4, 220-pound senior, bound for Div. III Williams College, was the hero of last year’s state championship, when he ran for 124 yards and threw for 82 more in a 27-12 win over Wahconah in the Div. 7 title game at Gillette.
“His combination of athleticism and arm strength for passing the ball is as good as I’ve seen in my time, both in Duxbury and here,” said Cohasset coach Pete Afanasiw. “I’m going to miss him next year, obviously.”
After dropping a Week 2 game against Pembroke, Cohasset ripped off seven straight wins, but the Skippers’ bid for a second consecutive state crown ended in last week’s loss to Saint Bernard’s in the state semifinals. The Tobin Division crown was there for the taking against Hull, but the Pirates made the plays they needed to make in the second half to snatch that away, too.
The life of a defending champ is never easy.
“I’m proud of these guys. They battled all year long,” Afanasiw said. “Every single week after winning it in Gillette, you’re the game that everybody circles. And you get everybody’s knockout punch every single play. They grinded all year long. They had a target on their back. We may not get all the results (we want) all the time but it’s not because of a lack of effort. Other teams come and they’re ready to go (against us).”
Hull certainly was.
The Pirates grabbed a 10-0 lead when Nick Tiani (6 carries for 32 yards) ran for a 5-yard TD in the first quarter and Logan Chenette boomed a 41-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Cohasset erased the deficit thanks to Baker’s 1-yard TD run in the second quarter and Thomas Hansen’s 22-yard field goal in the the third. That second score actually was a win of sorts for Hull. Appleton raced 70 yards on a screen pass down to the Hull 5, but the Pirates, clinging to a 10-7 lead, stiffened defensively and forced the field goal. A delay of game penalty on third-and-goal from the 3 didn’t help matters.
“That was tough,” Afanasiw said. “The penalty was a difficult one to swallow, but at the same time we have to make plays. We had opportunities (and didn’t cash in). That’s part of football.”
“That was huge,” Bongo said of the stand. “We knew that if we let them in we would have been playing from behind. We knew we needed to get the stop. Our offense was rolling from then on.”
Hull’s next drive after the field goal ended in a punt, but the Pirates cashed in early in the fourth quarter when Richardson hit Gianibas in stride down the seam for a 62-yard score. Gianibas caught the ball around the Cohasset 35, shook a tackle and raced into the end zone. Chenette’s PAT made it 17-10.
“I told O-D (O’Donnell) I was open down the seam,” Gianibas said. “He said, ‘OK, we’re going to do a fake pass first and then you down the sideline.’ I told Luke before the play started to look for me. There was no safety. A linebacker can’t cover me.”
Nick Tiani picked off Baker on Cohasset’s next offensive snap, setting Hull up at the Skippers’ 43. Seven plays later, Richardson burrowed in from a yard out for a 24-10 lead with 7:06 left. Tiani, who was everywhere, had the big play on the drive, a 35-yard reception down to the Cohasset 6. Tiani had five catches for 98 yards.
Said O’Donnell: “(Cohasset) took Bongo away a little (in the passing game), and Nick Tiani came up big.”
Cohasset’s last drive ended with turnover on downs at its own 48 as Bongo, in coverage, swatted away a fourth-down pass intended for Jamie Smith (2 catches for 52 yards).
“I love playing defense,” Bongo said. “You get to lay some hits and bat the ball away like I did today. Nothing better than playing defense.”
Cohasset picked up two first downs and ran out the clock. Then it was time to start thinking about the next challenge — KIPP Academy (7-4) in the state final.
“They have the best quarterback around” in Juan Setalsingh, O’Donnell said. “They’ve got speed everywhere, and they’ve got guys 280 (pounds) plus. They’re probably the best team in Division 8. Don’t go by their record. They lost games early, they had injuries. They’re legit. That quarterback, God help us.”
“That’s the last stop in a long journey,” Bongo said. “We just need to play like we’ve been playing all season. Play even better (in fact) because KIPP Academy is very good. We need to come out fast, hit hard from the get-go just like we have the last few games.”