FOXBORO -- How do you cheer up a dejected fan base?
If they root for the Hull High football team, one word might do the trick.
The Pirates have plenty of them. In fact, they were the stars of the 2021 team.
All of them, hopefully, will be back to anchor the 2022 squad, a year older, a year stronger, and now extra motivated.
That might not take all of the sting out of Wednesday's 20-14 loss to South Shore League rival Randolph in the MIAA Division 8 Super Bowl, but there's no denying the future is bright for Hull.
Running back/linebacker John Gianibas will be back, for example. All he did Wednesday was rush 13 times for 72 yards and catch nine passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, pushing his season totals to almost 1,400 yards rushing and 18 offensive TDs.
"John's a great player," coach Mike O'Donnell said. "All of our juniors had great years -- five all-league players."
Quarterback Luke Richardson will return for his third year as a starter. He showed promise in Hull's 5-2 campaign in Fall 2 last spring and then blossomed this fall. He finished with more than 1,800 passing yards and nine TDs, completing 55 percent of his attempts.
Tight end/defensive end Tyler Sordillo will be back after recording six sacks and three forced fumbles to go along with 16 catches for 313 yards.
Linebacker/center Aidan Murphy (83 tackles coming into the Super Bowl) and tight end/safety Austin Bongo (three forced fumbles, two INTs) also will return.
Throw in sophomore Nick Tiani, one of the heroes of Hull's semifinal conquest of top-seeded Hoosac Valley, and that's a nice foundation for 2022 as the Pirates attempt to claim that elusive third MIAA crown. Hull won EMass titles in 1977 and 1996.
Of course, not everyone will be around to reap the rewards. The Pirates (9-4) will graduate eight seniors, including captains Jaden Stilphen, Aidan Robey and Ryan Dunn. The offensive line will be especially hard hit with Dunn (center), right tackle Conner Sordillo and left tackle Joe Johnson all moving on.
"I feel terrible for the seniors. I really do," O'Donnell said. "It's an emotional time for them. This will be a long ride home. And they have to turn their equipment in. That's the toughest day of the year. We had a very successful Fall 2 and (again) this season. We'll build on it. We'll build on it."
Hull did a lot right in the state championship game. The Pirates executed a fake punt on their first drive and later forced Randolph punter Shaquan Rush to pull it down and run under pressure, leading to a turnover on downs and a short field that Hull converted into the game's first score -- Stilphen's 6-yard TD run. Logan Chenette's PAT made it 7-0 in the first minute of the second quarter.
Randolph (8-4) answered with a touchdown drive, and a two-point conversion, to go up 8-7, but Hull responded with a seven-play, 64-yard march capped off by Gianibas' 40-yard TD catch. Lined up in the slot to Richardson's left, Gianibas faked inside, cut to the outside and was wide open in the left flat for a catch-and-run score that gave the Pirates a 14-8 lead going into halftime.
Unfortunately for Hull, that was it for the highlights. Randolph dominated the second half, eventually breaking through for a pair of fourth-quarter TDs that sealed the Pirates' fate.
Hull's second-half drives went like this: interception, punt, punt, punt, interception, clock runs out.
"We knew they were coming," O'Donnell said of Randolph, which was missing several starters for the teams' Week 4 matchup -- a 26-6 Hull win at home. "They're big, they're physical. You saw what happened -- they wore us down."
Randolph rushed 50 times for 234 yards (4.7-yard average) and two TDs. The Blue Devils attempted only four passes and completed just one -- on a halfback option. The relentless ground attack, out of a double-wing formation, eventually proved to be too much for the Pirates.
"I'm sure they'll be in the weight room tomorrow," O'Donnell said of his players. "They'll want to be right back at it. If they're not playing a winter sport they'll want to be in the weight room. ... To play teams like that we have to get stronger."
When it was over, O'Donnell and his captains accepted the runners-up prizes on the stage set up on the Gillette Stadium concourse. They then stuck around to watch Randolph lift the trophy.
O'Donnell might work that moment into next year's preseason motivational speech.
"I wanted them to see the celebration," the coach said, "but I also wanted to show respect for another South Shore League team. We pride ourselves on showing class. They beat us, we're going to stand there and cheer them on."
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Despite Super Bowl loss, Hull High football is in a good place