SAUGUS -- The Newburyport football team couldn’t get on the bus out of Saugus fast enough last night.
The Clippers (4-3 overall, 1-0 CAL) kept alive hopes of repeating as Cape Ann League/Northeastern Conference Division 3 champions with a 20-14 victory over Saugus on rain-soaked Stackpole Field.
It was an afternoon of firsts for the Clippers in that they were playing their first league game of the season, and it was the first start for quarterback Connor Wile, who missed the first six games due to a lingering shoulder injury that he suffered last spring.
Nothing was pretty about the victory, and as has often been the case for the Clippers over the last two seasons, the game involved a comeback and anxiety down to the final minute.
Newburyport appeared to have the game safely in hand with just 3:25 remaining after Sam Francis’ second touchdown run put the visitors ahead 20-7. Saugus then scrapped its triple-option running attack, and quarterback C.J. Randolph aired it out in hopes of engineering two quick scoring drives.
At first, it worked. Randolph was nearly perfect on the first drive, completing 3 of 4 passes for 41 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Dan Cacciola. The entire drive took only 1:17, setting up an onside kick attempt right at the two-minute warning.
Newburyport recovered the onside kick, but on the first play from scrimmage, Wile fumbled the snap, and Saugus defensive lineman Nick Vokey recovered on the Newburyport 43-yard-line. Left with plenty of time to engineer a game winning drive, Randolph suddenly became much less efficient as a passer, possibly due in part to the fact that the skies opened for the final two minutes. Randolph threw four straight incomplete passes, giving Newburyport the ball back for good for three kneel-downs and a 20-14 victory.
“I think anxious is an understatement,” said Newburyport coach Ed Gaudiano when asked how he felt in the closing minutes. “They’re a triple-option team, so we geared up for that all week. We did a good job with it. Then they come out and throw, and we have to snap into pass defense. We didn’t work on it all week. They caught us a few times, and the fumble wasn’t part of the plan, either.”