By David Willis
---- — HAVERHILL — A season ago, Whittier claimed the biggest victory of its season with a dramatic game-winning touchdown pass with 44 seconds left at Northeast Tech.
Yesterday, the drama was the same but the roles were reversed, as Northeast scored with 1:38 to go in regulation for a come-from-behind 18-14 victory.
“It came down to the end again and we just couldn’t make the play,” said Whittier coach Kevin Bradley. “We were always one play away on offense or defense and just couldn’t make that play when it mattered the most.”
This was not only the second thriller in two seasons against Northeast, it was also the second heartbreaking loss for the Wildcats (3-2) this season. Their other loss came on a score with 30 seconds left against Austin Prep.
“In both games we had them in the last minute and we let them get away,” said Bradley. “We are good enough to win, but we are still not good enough to win the tough games. We have to learn how to close teams out.”
The Wildcats started in style. After holding Northeast to a 3-and-out in its first possession of the game, Whittier’s Jaylin Deveau burst through the line to block the punt and Matt Sturgeon recovered the ball at the 12-yard line.
Four plays later, QB Connor Bradley plunged in from 2 yards out and Jesus Sanchez ran for the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Northeast responded with a touchdown, but the Wildcats’ Josh Barton stuffed the 2-point attempt to keep it 8-6.
The Wildcats then added to advantage with 3:04 left in the half when Bradley again scored, this time on a QB sneak. Northeast then advanced to the Whittier 3, but a Deveau tackle on fourth down ended the drive on the final play before halftime.
Whittier’s Scott Bonneau opened the second half by picking off a pass. But that was as good as it would be for the Wildcats.
Northeast put together a 13-play drive that resulted in 1-yard touchdown run by Troy Tartarini, but again missed the conversion and the lead stayed 14-12 Wildcats.
Whittier responded by driving to the Knights’ 14, but turned the ball over on downs and with 1:38 left. Christian Perez scored to give Northeast the winning margin.
The Wildcats took a hit in the third when top running back Sanchez had to leave the game after a helmet to helmet hit with a Knights running back while playing safety. He had rushed for 57 yards on 13 carries before the injury.
Sidney Taylor impressed for Whittier on defense with 12 tackles and Bonneau chipped in with 10 stops.
“This is a very, very tough Whittier team,” said Northeast coach Donald Heres. “We feel like these are two of the top teams in the CAC and they will be back. With this new playoff system, we expect to see them again.”