Watertown’s 24-22 win over Belmont wasn’t pretty, but a Thanksgiving Day win is always satisfying.
The Raiders (7-4) let an 11 point second half lead slip away, and seemed like they were heading for defeat at their hands of their archrivals after Watertown failed to convert on fourth down and Belmont (4-7) began running out the clock.
Watertown finally stopped the Marauders and got the ball back at its own 19 with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Junior quarterback Deon Smith drove the Raiders to the Belmont 18. Along the way avoiding turnovers twice – first falling on his own fumble and then a Belmont defender dropped an interception in the end zone.
On came Watertown kicker Conor Kennelly with 18 seconds left. He split the uprights and had plenty of length to spare. The sophomore said he did not feel nerves when he went out to kick with the game on the line.
“At the end of the game, I felt good,” Kennelly said. “I knew I could make it, I had done it before. I didn’t feel like I had any trouble going out there.”
After Belmont’s last gasp pass fell short, the Raiders celebrated in the middle of Victory Field, and Kennelly got a lot of pats on the back from his teammates.
“It just felt great to be out there,” Kennelly said. “All the seniors have put in all that work for four years. It was great to win it for them.”
Watertown Head Coach John Cacace told his team they had won an “epic game.” He was pleased with the result, despite not being the team’s best performance of the year.
“It was a great way to end the season,” Cacace said. “We did not play great football out there, but we fought. Guys who have seen us play all year know this team has great heart, great character, passion for what we do. In the end they made us proud.”
The day started well for Watertown, who took a 7-0 lead when Smith scored on a 19-yard run with 56 seconds left in the first quarter. The score came one play after Belmont snapped the ball over the punters head for a big loss.
The Marauders fought back and scored when junior quarterback Cal Cristofori hit Joe Shaughnessy on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 4:07 left in the second.
The next drive, Smith broke for a long run, and then a few plays later senior running back Kyle Foley scored on a 7-yard run with 41 seconds left.
That left enough time for Belmont to drive down to make a field goal and go into halftime trailing 14-10.
Watertown got a big boost at the start of the second half when a short kickoff landed where no Belmont player could get to the ball and the Raiders pounced on it at the 22.
Foley scored from one yard out to give Watertown a 21-10 lead.
Momentum looked to be on the Raiders’ side on the ensuing Belmont drive, but instead it shifted he Marauders’ way. On third and 15 Christofori threw an incomplete pass, but a Watertown defender was called for roughing the passer. A couple more Raider penalties aided Belmont’s drive, which ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Mekhai Johnson. The two point conversion failed, but the lead was just five.
“That was huge. We get a turnover, we score, go up two scores. We are kind of in control with a three and out, but we get the penalty. The game would have been totally different,” Cacace said. “We had opportunities to close it out and put distance between us but we weren’t able to get it done.”
A good kickoff return by Watertown was called back on a personal foul. When they could not move the ball, the Raiders set up to punt and Belmont blocked it. A few plays later Belmont junior running back Ben Jones scored on a 4-yard run with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, giving Belmont a 22-21 lead. Again, they missed the two-point conversion.
Watertown, however, had the last word with the Kennelly field goal.
“We talk about never wanting things to happen and hope they happen. We have to go out and take it, and make it happen,” Cacace said. “On that last drive we made it happen.”