LAKEVILLE — Kevin Hughes grabbed the wrestling belt from his defensive coordinator, Andrew Amaral, and held it proudly aloft, the smile spreading across his face wider than the holes his offensive line opened for the senior running back.
Four years of hard work culminated in that moment, as the career rushing leader at Apponequet Regional captured the one thing that eluded him in a four-year star-studded career: A championship.
“This was the big one,” a delighted Hughes said moments later. “We’ve been working for this all year. We got the belt! It feels amazing.”
While Hughes took a backseat to quarterback John Mahan III and his four touchdown passes during Saturday’s 42-7 victory over Old Rochester in the South Coast Conference Blue Division title game, the emotions of the moment spelled out the journey Hughes and his classmates had been on. From a combined 6-17 record in 2017 and 2018 to a promising 4-0 start that dissipated in 2019.
“Four years of hard work,” said Hughes, who rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. “We’ve been building it for four years straight. Some years good, some years bad. We kept grinding and it paid off.”
It was Apponequet’s first SCC title since 2014 and its first under six-year head coach Zane Fyfe.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “This is the best team. By that I don’t mean we had the best record and we beat whoever we played. I mean this is the best team because they are selfless. They buy in. They do everything we ask them to do. You can see the results. That’s what makes the best team.”
The Lakers (5-1) finished off their Fall II campaign with maybe their most dominant performance of the season, scoring 42 consecutive points and piling up 500 yards of offense.
“It feels amazing,” said Mahan. “It was just teamwork and determination. This is just an amazing team.”
The junior quarterback completed 7 of 11 passes for 192 yards and four scores, giving him nine touchdowns over the final three games of the season.
“He’s been working hard,” Hughes said. “He works his [butt] off. These past couple of games he stepped up when we needed him.”
Equally impressive was the Apponequet defense. Old Rochester (3-3) marched 75 yards on eight plays for a touchdown on its opening drive, but the Laker D forced three three-and-outs and snagged two interceptions on the Bulldogs’ final five possessions of the first half.
“They were driving the field and we saw a mismatch so we made a quick substitution based on their personnel and that’s how we were able to slow them down,” Fyfe said.
While the defense was doing its job, Mahan found tight end Mike Henricksen on touchdown passes of 13 and 11 yards in the first quarter, then Cole Dixon scored on an 8-yard TD early in the second quarter for a 21-7 lead.
“We were coming out gangbusters,” Fyfe said. “We knew they were going to load the box and we said ‘OK, we’re going to beat them with our speed and our vertical threats.’ That’s what we did.”
Then Lakers put the pedal to the metal. After an ORR three-and-out, the Lakers needed just one play for Mahan to hit Chace Gorman, the quarterback he replaced midway through the 2019 season, on a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
After the Lakers defense forced another three-and-out, Hughes broke an 83-yard scoring run, giving Apponequet 21 points in three and a half minutes.
Hughes, who is bound for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, finished his final season with 1,116 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. But when asked about it after the game, he had no idea about surpassing the benchmark.
“They don’t care about their own stats,” Fyfe said. “They’re here to win together. It’s amazing. They are the ultimate testament to what a team is.”