BELMONT – Deerfield Academy’s running backs call themselves “Thunder and Lightning,” and they crashed through Belmont Hill’s defense all afternoon.
Zell Lassiter rushed for three touchdowns and 115 yards, and Malachi Costello led with 155 rushing yards as the Big Green topped the Sextants, 27-14, in the NEPSAC Danny Smith Bowl at Belmont Hill. Deerfield Academy (7-3) has now won its last three NEPSAC bowl games, taking home trophies in 2019 and 2021.
“These New England bowl games are great for New England football, great for prep league football,” said Deerfield Academy coach Brian Barbato. “Any time you get that opportunity, it’s great, and we embraced the opportunity. If you win six (games), you should get to play an extra game.”
Lassiter capped DA’s first drive of the game with a 2-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter, and Cole Greer added a 7-yard scoring strike to Triston Ward to make it 14-0 with 4:42 left in the second. That’d be more than enough for the Big Green defense, whose constant pressure and size at the line of scrimmage limited Belmont Hill’s offense to 29 total yards at halftime.
Deerfield Academy’s defense made eight tackles in the backfield, including five sacks, and recovered a fumble in their red zone to end a promising Belmont Hill drive in the third quarter.
“This is the best defensive game we’ve had,” Lassiter said. “They did everything they were supposed to do.”
Lassiter broke off two big touchdown runs in the second half: a 49-yard sprint down the right sideline in the third quarter, and a 23-yard burst up the middle in the fourth. That last score came right after Belmont Hill (7-2) had finally gotten on the board on a 22-yard pass from Réis Little to Luke Travaglini to get within 20-7 with 5:05 left in the fourth.
Little finished with eight completions for 139 yards, and struck again on a 15-yard pass to Luis Kuehlberger, who out-jumped two defenders to haul in the touchdown and get within 27-14. But just 31.4 seconds remained at that point, Tommy Schwartz recovered the onside kick, and one last kneel down sealed the victory.
“We did what we did: played groundhog football,” Lassiter said. “We marched and marched and marched, and it led us to victory.”