HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Pinheiro, Coulstring get defensive in Rockland's Super Bowl win

·4 min read

FOXBORO – Gabe Pinheiro left no doubt that this was the shining moment of his high school football career.

The senior linebacker walked off the turf at Gillette Stadium Friday night beaming after playing a pivotal role in a terrific defensive performance, which Rockland used to secure its first Super Bowl title in 21 years with a 23-13 victory over South Shore League rival Abington in the Division 6 state final.

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Rockland limited the Green Wave to under 200 yards of total offense and forced five turnovers in the win with Pinheiro accounting for two of those takeaways with fumble recoveries.

For Pinheiro, it was hard not to be excited about a starring performance on the biggest of stages.

“If I’m not mistaken, this is the most turnovers I’ve gotten in a game,” Pinheiro said. “I’m pretty pumped about that, especially in a state championship where it means the most. It’s got a big smile on my face. I’m speechless. I’m still getting it through my head.”

Pinheiro wasn’t the only Bulldog to record two turnovers. Junior defensive back Jacob Coulstring also made his presence felt defensively by tallying two interceptions.

Rockland’s Gabe Pinheiro celebrates his fourth-quarter fumble recovery during the Division 6 state title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
Rockland’s Gabe Pinheiro celebrates his fourth-quarter fumble recovery during the Division 6 state title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

“He’s got a knack for the football,” said Rockland coach Nick Liquori.

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Amped up from the opening whistle, Pinheiro found himself in the middle of the action early on. Abington botched a snap on its second offensive play of the game just over four minutes in and Pinheiro pounced on the loose ball to get the ball back for the Bulldogs.

“I didn’t even realize it that the ball was in my hands until I stood up,” Pinheiro said. “Adrenaline is pumping, you’re just trying to make the plays and once you make the plays, you got your whole teammates cheering you on, you got the coaches cheering you on, you got the fan section cheering you on. The best feeling in the world, man.”

Rockland’s Gabe Pinheiro celebrates his defense's fourth-down stop of Abington to turn the ball over on downs in the second quarter of the Division 6 state title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
Rockland’s Gabe Pinheiro celebrates his defense's fourth-down stop of Abington to turn the ball over on downs in the second quarter of the Division 6 state title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Later in the first half, Coulstring put his mark on the defensive showing. Protecting a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter after P.J. Celestino returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, Coulstring picked off a deep pass two plays later.

The Bulldogs converted Coulstring’s interception into their final points of the contest on a 27-yard field goal by Jerry Esposito with no time left in the first half.

“It reminded me a lot of my last pick against Blackstone (in the state semifinal) where I just jumped it along the sideline like that,” Coulstring said. “Just reaction to it all. Can’t predict it. It’s just reaction.”

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In a matter of six plays midway through the fourth quarter, Pinheiro and Coulstring stepped up again. Pinheiro first recovered another fumble on the Abington 39-yard line and on the very first snap after the Green Wave turned Rockland over on downs, Coulstring picked off another deep shot as Abington went into its bag of tricks trying to execute a double pass.

Rockland’s Jacob Coulstring celebrates an Abington turnover as Abington’s Drew Donovan looks down dejectedly during the fourth quarter of the Division 6 state title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
Rockland’s Jacob Coulstring celebrates an Abington turnover as Abington’s Drew Donovan looks down dejectedly during the fourth quarter of the Division 6 state title game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

The defensive impact Coulstring made was striking, as he didn’t lose focus on that side of the ball even though the productive running back was limited to just 59 yards on 17 carries. Coulstring further cemented Rockland’s defensive performance by coming through with a pass break-up on Abington’s final offensive play of the contest.

“Just keep doing what I’m doing,” said Coulstring of his mind-set. “It’s a team effort. It’s not just me. Everybody steps up, everybody helps out and we win a state title.”

Like Coulstring, Pinheiro was quick to credit his teammates for helping him come up with the game-altering plays.

“We won as a team,” Pinheiro said. “It’s a brotherhood around here. You heard it before, I’m going to say it again, these are all my brothers. They play with me every single down throughout the whole season and now we’re about to measure our rings.”

To go along with the abundance of takeaways, Rockland also turned Abington over on downs four times when the Green Wave were in Bulldogs’ territory.

With its strong defense showing up one more time on a cold night at the home of the New England Patriots, Rockland proved its state championship was rooted in its defensive identity.

“It’s one thing we strive ourselves on,” Liquori said. “I didn’t know what to expect. We had two starters coming back – one on offense, one on defense. We looked at who we had and we just tried to fit and mold the pieces of the puzzle together. The one thing we were going to do is control gaps, make tackles, hit hard, play hard and hopefully we get turnovers at the end.”

This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Pinheiro, Coulstring lead Rockland High defense in Super Bowl win

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