I heard a lot of comments this weekend about the way the MIAA has succeeded in diluting its football postseason, and I’d have to say I agree. But in the aftermath of watching Lynn English’s loss to Tewksbury Saturday, in the Division 3 North final, I’d rather — for this week, at least — focus on the positive.
There’s plenty of time to criticize the system. I’d rather revel in a game that came 100 percent as advertised. The fact that Tewksbury won, and not English, has more to do with good fortune and resourcefulness on the part of Redman quarterback James Connolly than it had to do with anything English did or didn’t do.
This was a game, though, where even the system — faulty though it may be on balance, couldn’t mess things up.
Going in, I will confess to having some serious reservations about how it was going to go. Tewksbury was battle-tested and motivated. It’s presence at the sectional final level of this tournament is almost a given, and it was obviously still smarting over last year’s 9-8 Division 2 North semifinal loss to Beverly.
The Merrimack Valley Conference always gets high grades for competitiveness while the Northeastern Conference, split into three divisions with the inclusion of Malden, Medford and Somerville, ended up doing none of its better schools any favors. English ended up in the lowest division.
English may have been undefeated, but Tewksbury’s only loss came at the hands of North Andover, which made it to the Division 2 North final before bowing out to Lincoln-Sudbury.
On the other hand, English did pound Billerica in the divisional semifinal, toying with a team that had five players back after suspensions handed down earlier in the season. Plus, they soundly defeated Swampscott at a time when the Big Blue was undefeated. So the Bulldogs came in with the aura of belonging.
The game ended up testing the offenses. Both defenses were stingy, and the game turned on big plays and gadget plays. Ski Gaston broke through for a 75-yard run and Juan Avelino caught a 47-yard halfback option pass from freshman Mathias Fowler.
On the other side, the Redmen scored one touchdown on a halfback option. But it’s two other plays that undoubtedly kept Bulldogs coach Chris Carroll up all night Saturday. On the first one, English had Connolly stopped for a huge loss on third down at midfield, but the junior QB managed to toss a shovel pass to Masyn Lorick for a long gainer. That’s the drive that ended in the halfback option pass that gave Tewksbury a 15-6 lead.
Later, after English had scored twice to go up 18-15, the Redmen struck again. This time, Connolly was cornered by three Bulldogs at midfield, again facing a potential big loss in yardage, but managed to find Shane Darrigo, who ended up running down to the English 29. That, too, ended up being a touchdown drive that put Tewksbury ahead for good.
There were other factors. Each team scored three touchdowns, but while the Bulldogs failed on all three conversion attempts, the Redmen scored one 2-pointer and two extra points. Considering the margin of victory was four points, the math isn’t that complicated.
One of my favorite moments in the game — and one that showed Carroll’s adaptability as a coach — came on English’s first touchdown. Tewksbury had been stuffing the running game that had pretty much defined the Bulldogs during the latter half of the season. So Carroll, on English’s first series of the second half, fed the Redmen four straight passes before springing Gaston up the middle. Gaston surprised everyone, and ran 75 yards untouched to the end zone.
This was a great game, and it represented high school football at its best. All I can say is that the Thanksgiving game between 9-1 English and 8-2 Classical should be considered one of the game’s best.
You have to feel sorry for Lynnfield’s players. A 10-point lead with under four minutes to go should be considered somewhat safe (though not iron-clad). But to Watertown’s credit, the Raiders didn’t see it that way.
Again, we’re talking Middlesex League vs. Cape Ann League. And Watertown, as perhaps the smallest school in the league, plays bigger and stronger schools every week. The Raiders weren’t going to wilt in the face of a 10-point deficit, and they didn’t.
I’ve seen enough of these games to know that once a team gets late-game momentum, something always happens to keep it going. Either it’s a turnover or an onside kick. In this case, it’s the latter. And once that happened, there was an air of inevitability.
St. Mary’s is 10-0 and has clobbered every team it has faced, save for Archbishop Williams. In fact, the Spartans’ plus-362 point differential is No. 1 in the state.
One can understand why. Calvin Johnson is an electrifying quarterback — perhaps one of the top two or three players in the area. Its backs — James Brumfield, Marlon Scott and Josh Mateo — are all quick and speedy. They are a handful. Most of all, the kids up front block as if their lives depend on it. That, as much as anything, is a trademark of a Matt Durgin-coached team.
St. Mary’s will be playing for a second straight Super Bowl appearance Saturday (2) at Braintree High.
Lynn Tech gave it a good run. But in its 20-6 loss to Cathedral Saturday night, it came up against one of the best runners in the state — Khalil Blair, who rushed 15 times for 215 yards. Even though the Tigers were undefeated coming into the game, Cathedral was 8-1 and certainly no slouch.
Here’s hoping the Tigers steamroll through the State Vocational Tournament. I see no reason why they won’t.
All season long, Marblehead was staring up at Melrose in the Division 4 rankings despite its undefeated record. One thing that kind of nagged at me all season was the Red Raiders’ opening-week win over a very good Masconomet team. It proved to be a huge difference in keeping Melrose at No. 1 and forcing Marblehead to go over there last Friday night. And it proves the value of being in a strong league (Middlesex) and playing tough opponents.