Football: Awards add up after final win

Football: Awards add up after final win

By Chris Estrada

It’s happened to us all. Sometimes a fly will just keep buzzing around your head no matter how hard you try to make it disappear.

For most of Saturday’s season finale, the Rhode Island Rams were just that for the Northeastern football team. Luckily for the Huskies, junior tailback Maurice Murray made for a pretty good flyswatter.

The Huskies led by as many as 21 points against Rhode Island, but the Rams charged back and chopped the lead to seven points in the fourth quarter. But with 23 seconds left in regulation, junior tailback Maurice Murray notched his third touchdown of the day from 22 yards out, allowing Northeastern (5-6, 4-4 in the Atlantic 10) to finally finish off Rhody, 45-31, in the Nov. 18 season finale at Parsons Field.

On a day when 13 seniors suited up for Northeastern for the last time, Murray served notice that he will be the leader for the Class of 2007 next season. The six-foot, 220-pounder from Mamaroneck, N.Y. ran for a career-high 226 yards and scored three times, including a four-yard scamper on the Huskies’ opening possession and a one-yard run early in the second quarter to give Northeastern a 17-3 edge.

The ground assault netted him the Boston Globe Gold Helmet Award, given weekly to the top player in New England’s Division 1AA schools, and A-10 Co-Player of the Week honors.

Murray finished the year with 1,061 yards, tied for third all-time on the school’s single-season rushing list with Tim Gale (2003).

Head coach Rocky Hager said his tailback’s performance was incredible and the new record couldn’t have happened to a better guy.

URI answered Northeastern’s opening score with a 35-yard field goal from senior kicker Colin Gallagher to make it 7-3. Upon getting the ball back at their own 31, the Huskies drove 61 yards on 11 plays with solid yardage from Murray and several chain-moving strikes from sophomore quarterback Anthony Orio (9-for-15, 106 yards, one touchdown). Freshman kicker Mat Johnson capped the possession with a 25-yard field-goal to make it 10-3.

“Life isn’t perfect and you learn from your experiences,” Orio said. “You take what you learn and use it in your life daily and I think that I’ve learned some things this year and hopefully, I’ll use them next year and lead these guys to a playoff berth.”

After taking the 17-3 lead in the second quarter, the Huskies pulled off one of their wildest scores of the season with 7:44 left in the frame. Facing third-and-14 from the Rhode Island 41, sophomore quarterback John Sperrazza bobbled the snap, grabbed the ball and was flushed out of the pocket. He threw to senior tight end Kendrick Ballantyne (four receptions, 93 yards, two touchdowns) with another defender in his face and into solid coverage. But somehow, the tight end still came up with the ball on the fly and strode in for a 41-yard touchdown.

“I was running a seam and I made my break and looked for the ball,” Ballantyne said. “I was open and I thought the ball was coming to me and I saw (Sperrazza) fumbling around with the ball … I was open and he saw me, but before he could throw the ball, he got pressured. When he came up, he stuck it in there and I was able to take care of the rest.”

Down 24-3, Rhode Island struck back with an eight-play, 56-yard drive that ended in a double-pass from sophomore quarterback Derek Cassidy to tailback Rodney Mitchell, who then threw the ball to a wide-open Shawn Leonard, making it 24-10. Northeastern would answer with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Orio to Ballantyne to make it 31-10, but would allow Rhody back in the game just 32 seconds later as Cassidy found receiver Tolbert Evans for a 25-yard strike to whittle the lead to 31-17 at the half.

The Rams started the second half with a 17-play, 78-yard drive that ate 6:43 off the clock and ended in a five-yard touchdown run by tailback Joe Casey, cutting the lead to 31-24. It would stand as the only score in the third quarter. In the fourth, Northeastern pushed their lead back to two touchdowns as Orio took the ball into the end zone himself from five yards out for a 38-24 Husky lead with 11:38 left.

URI pulled back to within seven with 3:15 left in regulation, but NU would hold on in its final possession with a key 22-yard run from Murray that kept the clock running to give Northeastern a critical first down. Murray added a final TD to cap the drive.

With Rhody defeated, Hager reflected fondly on his class of 2006. Five seniors – Ballantyne, fullback Shane Hopkins, defensive end Matt Campopiano and defensive backs Richard Orah and Lamar Gay – finished their careers as members of this year’s Atlantic 10 All-Conference team, along with the Murray.

“There have been times in the past where I’d get pretty choked up on senior day,” he said. “I prepared myself mentally to keep that from happening today, because these guys are a very special group of young men that have helped overcome obstacles that a lot of other people in our world would not even attempt to overcome.”

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