TEWKSBURY — On the first play of Saturday's game, Shane Aylward made magic — much like he has done ever since he suited up the first time for the Redmen Football team.
He would make all kinds of magic later on in the game, finishing with an impressive 231 all-purpose yards, which included 130 rushing yards on five touches with two touchdowns as well as a 90-yard kick-off return touchdown coming on that first play of the game.
But with seconds left in the third quarter, Aylward took a hand-off to his left for six yards, but ended up fumbling. He was on the bottom of the pile and stayed there for a bit, and appeared to be injured. He got up on his power, walked to the sidelines holding his shoulder. He didn't come back in the game, instead he cheered on his teammates, who closed out the contest with a 34-20 victory over the defending Division 2 state champions of North Andover.
After the game was over, Aylward was asked about his injury and immediately put focus on his teammates, rather than himself, something he also has done since day one.
"I'm a little bit banged up but nothing serious," he answered. "I'll be back practicing on Monday. I'm just glad we won. This was a real good team win for all of us."
It's a real good win against a real quality opponent, regardless if the Scarlet Knights have started off 1-3, a year after going 13-0.
"(To beat these guys is) an awesome feeling," said Aylward. "We lost to these guys the last two years. We came out and prepared for this game just like we do every week, but obviously today was a little bit of motivation when you face the defending Division 2 state champions. They had a little (bit of a slow start) at the beginning of the season and we had the momentum coming off the BC High win. We just came out and executed what we needed to do."
When the team's captains met at midfield, North Andover elected to kickoff, which was mistake number one. Mistake number two came when the kickoff went into the arms of Aylward at the Tewksbury 10 yard line.
"When they kicked it off, I saw that I had an opportunity (to catch it and run upfield)," he said. "I was trying to make the best of it. Those guys in front of me provided awesome blocks. You can see that every single one of them will just put their bodies on the line. They all did a fantastic job. They created a gap for me and I just did what I was supposed to do and got up inside and kept going."
Aylward found that opening up the middle before darting to his right and went untouched for the game's opening score. North Andover responded with its own touchdown, only to see Tewksbury respond as Aylward ran one in from five yards out, giving Tewksbury a 13-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Then early in the third quarter with the game tied at 20-20, Aylward was at it again. On first-and-15 from the Redmen 21, he took a hand-off and went left, before accelerating with an incredible burst of speed to get away from the line and linebackers. Aylward shifted to the left sideline, switched the ball into this left hand. As he did that, two defenders came up on his side, so he moved right, bouncing off one of his own players, before cutting back inside to his left and into the end zone for a very impressive 79-yard touchdown run — his third of the game and ninth overall touchdown in four games.
Coach Brian Aylward, who is always (and understandably) uncomfortable answering questions about his son who happens to be an All-Scholastic player, was asked about that acceleration of speed that Shane displays.
"Shane is a good football player," he said. "He knows how to control his speed, he knows how to control his body lean, he knows how to set up blocks and I think that's where his savvy part of the game helps him more than his straight line speed. I'm just happy that he has courage (to take the ball). I'm concerned for him (with his injury), but I'm happy for him."
Just like his kickoff return score, Shane said this long score was again all because of the other ten guys on the field with him wearing the Red jerseys.
"When I got the ball, I looked and there wasn't too much of an opening," he said. "Those (linemen) are working just as hard as anyone I have ever seen. They did a fantastic job all day. On that play, they were blocking their arms out and I hit a hole and got up inside of it. I saw a little opening and I kept looking and in my peripheral vision I could see a couple of guys running up (to try to catch me) so I tried to make a move that I did earlier in the game which didn't work, but this time it did and I cut inside.
“I had all of my teammates running with me the entire length of the field and they were just blocking all of the way (to the end zone). It was pretty awesome."
Nothing like making a little magic together with your teammates.