BHS Grid Squad: Unbeaten TVL Small Div. ChampsApr 29, 2021 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
Bellingham High’s football team celebrates victory over Medway that led to the Tri Valley League Small Division championship. Photo by LeighAnne Pendlebury
written by KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer
THE UNSUNG HEROES
Bellingham High football has returned to championship form. At Anderson Field on April 17, Coach Dan Haddad’s Blackhawks finished their season undefeated at 5-0 and clinched the Tri Valley League’s Small Division title by dominating Medway, 36-0.
The unblemished record and the league championship end two droughts. The last time the Blackhawks won a TVL championship was 20 years ago, in 2001, and the winning season ends a 13-year streak of losing records. The last time BHS had a winning season was in 2007, when assistant coach Chris Haddad was the team’s quarterback.
“Our players overcame a lot of barriers and tremendous obstacles because of the pandemic,” said Haddad. “It’s great to win a championship, and it’s great to bring winning football back to a community that’s hungry for success.”
Bellingham’s offense, defense and special teams competed in flawless fashion against Medway and controlled all three phases of the game. “We came close to playing perfect football,” Haddad said.
The trio of quarterback Gavin Elder, running back Blake Simpson and wide receiver Tyler Warren once again turned in spectacular efforts. Simpson had two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions, Warren hauled in two passes for touchdowns, and Elder passed for two touchdowns and scored on a two-point conversion. The other six points came on a 13-yard run by wideout Chris Domercant, whose score enabled the Blackhawks to take an early 6-0 lead.
Elder’s first TD pass to Warren covered 63 yards in the second quarter, and the junior QB found the athletic Warren wide open in the third stanza for a 60-yard score. Simpson scored on a 13-yard run in the first quarter, and his second TD came early in the fourth period on a three-yard scamper. He rushed for 150 yards on 17 carries.
Bellingham’s 5-0 record left it one game ahead of Dover-Sherborn (4-1) in the final TVL Small standings. Medway finished in third place at 3-2. The Blackhawks’ power, precision and execution were evident in their points-for and points-against numbers. BHS scored 185 points (37-point average) and yielded a mere 34 points for a per-game average of only 6.8 points.
After crushing Medway, the players obviously were ecstatic about their achievement and their championship status. Here’s what they said:
“We proved we’re the best in the TVL Small Division,” Domercant said. “A combination of hard work and resiliency helped restore passion for high school sports. We’ve given the town something to smile about.”
“Tyler got open twice for TDs, and that’s a result of the work our receivers are willing to do in practice,” Elder said. “My line deserves lots of credit and so do our coaches. My family has experience with football going back to 2000 and 2001. My grandfather was an assistant coach during those years. I’ve grown up in a winning culture, and I know it means a lot to this town to win a championship. Our work ethic and focus show that Bellingham football is back.”
“Winning a title shows how much we persevered when our backs were against the wall,” said tackle David Roy. “Last year we lost some close games, but this season we showed we could deliver a championship. Our game plan for Medway was excellent. It’s great to be No. 1.”
“The championship shows our dedication and how all the work we did during the summer and off-season paid off,” tight end Brady Feola said. “I’m glad we were able to compete during the pandemic and overcome some obstacles. The title is amazing and it means a lot.”
“It’s exciting to be TVL champs,” said Simpson. “It’s been a long ride and now the journey has ended with a title. Beating Medway was a huge win, and the credit should go to our coaches and our linemen.”
“Our team is a special breed,” Warren said. “I’ve never been on a title team before. This is an example of what can happen with hard work and talent.”
“Our goal every year is to win a TVL crown,” said running back Anthony Galindo, who missed the entire season because of a torn Achilles tendon. “However, we did it this time, and it speaks to the work ethic of our players and coaches. I wish I could have been involved on the field, but I’m just very proud of my teammates. This is a storybook ending beating Medway because I played Pop Warner football there.”
The Blackhawks’ Andrew Cochrane (wide receiver) severely injured his ankle in the second quarter trying to catch a pass in the end zone. He was taken by ambulance to an area hospital. “All the players were determined to win the game for him,” Haddad said.
That was especially evident by the play of Simpson, Warren and Elder, who combined to add 14 points to the 22-0 lead when Cochrane left. “That trio is unbelievable,” Haddad said. “Elder and Warren sharpen their passing and receiving skills in practice. That’s when it all happens. And Simpson is unbelievable; he never fumbles and he’s reliable.”
Haddad emphasized that after five losing seasons he had figured out what was needed. “I finally realized that culture matters,” he said, “and that translates to the field, practice, locker-room and academics. I knew we had talent, but we had most of these kids last year. What changed was the system, on offense and defense, and our kids adjusted and paid the price for success. The players told me early on that they wanted to be remembered as the ones who turned football around.”
Haddad emphasized that all but one of Bellingham’s victories came against Division 6 teams. The Blackhawks are a Division 7 school. “If this were a normal year, I firmly believe that if our team had stayed healthy, we could have made it to Gillette Stadium for a Super Bowl.”ROAD TO THE TITLE
The undefeated season began with a 40-0 shutout of Norton, followed next by a 36-13 triumph over Dedham and a stunning 43-7 victory over Dover-Sherborn. A hard-fought 30-14 win over Millis set the stage for the final clash of the campaign—a 36-0 shutout over Medway that crowned the Blackhawks as Tri Valley League Small Division champions.
“When we played Norton on Thanksgiving in 2019, we lost by a point and got pushed around,” Haddad recalled. “The kids remembered that and felt that it was pay-back time. Against Dedham we were facing a team with a new coach (Mike Landers). They were in transition and were still trying to adjust. The Dover game featured two teams at 2-0. They were in the way of our winning the TVL title, so we treated that contest as a major playoff game.”
Millis also had a new coach (Bob Martiello), but the Mohawks changed their offensive scheme, giving BHS all kinds of trouble. Trailing 7-0 early on, the Blackhawks bounced back, taking an 8-7 lead and battling intensely throughout the contest. When the dust settled, Bellingham had earned its fourth straight triumph—a 16-point victory.
“Millis went to a power-run offense,” Haddad said. “They took advantage of us not playing Blackhawk football. Our guys saw Millis with a 0-3 record, but the Mohawks played their hearts out, grinding out yards and wearing us down. Two players turned in big plays for us. Chris Domercant had two interceptions, one returned for 101 yards. That TD was huge. Also, Blake Simpson had a sack of their QB for nine yards when they were threatening to score.”
The title-clinching victory over Medway on April 17 made the season one to remember.
THE WINNING FORMULAWhat made the BHS football team special were attributes that became the calling card for success. They included a high football IQ, athleticism, a coachable nature, technical skills, speed and quickness, size and mental toughness.
Here’s what Haddad said about each of those elements:
“A high football IQ was evident by our players’ mental approach to the game. Our athleticism was visible after seeing how hard our players worked in practice and how they went above and beyond in the weight room. By asking questions about their positions and the schemes we employed they showed how coachable they were. After practice, many of the boys worked on their technical skills.“We had speed off the edge, and we were quick off the ball. Our size was evident on offense and defense. We showed how mentally and physically tough we were in the Dover-Sherborn game. We overcame their physical style and showed good mental toughness by bouncing back from penalties and staying focused after we had a touchdown called back.”
KEY STATISTICSOffensive statistical leaders: Elder—63 completions out of 93 attempts, 1136 yards passing, and 12 TDs; Simpson—75 rushes for 561 yards, 8 rushing TDs and 12 two-point conversions; Warren—15 receptions for 427 yards and 7 TDs; and Domercant—13 receptions for 276 yards and 4 TDs.
Defensive statistical leaders: Tackles — Feola, 28; interceptions — Domercant, 2; sacks — Andrew Keeler, 3; and forced fumbles — Roy, 1.
Another statistic that’s meaningful is nine. That represents the number of seniors who will be attending college and playing football.
THE COACHESDan Haddad finished his sixth year as the Blackhawks’ coach, leading his squad to the TVL Small Division crown and an unbeaten record. His previous five seasons, however, weren’t what the coach had envisioned — five losing campaigns.
The only season that came close to a .500 record was 2016, when his squad posted a 5-6 record.
Before replacing Dan MacLean as the BHS coach in 2015, the Natick native coached Pop Warner football in Bellingham for 25 years. In 2004, one of his teams traveled to Florida, where it captured third-place in a national playoff.
The 57-year-old coach played high school football at Natick High. A tackle, he blocked for quarterback Doug Flutie, who later played for Boston College and became a Heisman Trophy winner enroute to playing pro ball.
The staff Haddad had in place that dominated TVL teams during the Fall 2 season included his two sons, Chris and Dan Jr. Chris served as the defensive coordinator, and Dan Jr. was the offensive coordinator. The other coaches are Derek Fernandes (quarterbacks), Pat McGovern (offensive, defensive lines), and freshmen coaches John Imparato and Jamie Dutremble. Haddad Sr. also worked with both lines.
“The staff did a great job,” Haddad emphasized. “They were terrific motivators who stressed basic fundamentals. They deserve all the credit for what we accomplished.”
THE UNSUNG HEROES
If there were an unsung hero award, it would be difficult to bypass Haddad’s two sons — Chris and Dan Jr.
“The system changed both on offense and defense from the previous year, and it was their idea to try something new,” Haddad Sr. said. “They worked hard and adjusted to the new wrinkles. I liked their objectivity and their willingness to try a new format, and what helped was the players because they bought in 100 percent.”
After defeating Medway and clinching the TVL Small title, the two coordinators paused to reflect on months and months of planning.
“All the players worked hard and bought into the program,” Chris said. “We got great effort and execution. We also had a great senior group.”
“Our kids worked so hard, and now it’s an incredible feeling to know that we’re all champions,” said Dan Jr.
Chris and Dan Jr. both played high school football at Bellingham High. Dan Jr. was a wide receiver, and Chris was a quarterback who later played cornerback at Curry College.
BLACKHAWKS FOOTBALL PLAYERS & PHOTOS
Additional photos by LeighAnne Pendlebury and short biographies of the players who helped the Blackhawks roll to an undefeated record and the TVL Small Division championship may be found by clicking here: https://www.bellinghambulletin.com/2021/04/29/354316/blackhawks-teamwork-results-in-tvl-small-divisi...