TEWKSBURY — In a matter of days, just one game to the next, the Tewksbury Memorial High School boys' soccer team went from playing one of the worst halves in recent memory — giving up five goals, including four in a 20-minute span, to playing extremely well in every facet of the game, especially defensively, to come away with a tremendous 1-0 victory to keep their post-season hopes alive.
Last Thursday at home, Tewksbury led 2-1 at halftime before completely falling apart, giving up five second half goals to Central Catholic in a crazy 6-4 loss. At that time, the team's record was 2-7-1 overall and it clearly appeared as if the writing on the wall was bigger than ever, and the team that finished with nine wins a year ago and took a talented Winchester team to overtime in the first round of the state tournament, would not be going back to the playoffs.
After a few days of trying to reorganize the team's overall play and team play, the Redmen came back and played terrific, beating Andover on Tuesday to improve to 3-7-1. Now with a favorable schedule, the Redmen could indeed make some noise in the last few weeks, if indeed they play like they did against Andover.
"We obviously played much better today than we did against Central and we played pretty good on defense, obviously getting the shut out," said head coach Chris Burns. "We played a good counter attack game. I thought we played a real solid all-around game and this is a good quality win for us. We did a nice job on defense and (our goalie) Liam (Cafferty) made a couple of nice saves in the final five minutes to preserve the win."
The game was scoreless until about six minutes left in the game and Andover committed a foul near the (18-yard) box and Tewksbury was awarded a free kick. Nabil Barkallah took it and teammate Zach LaLonde jumped to play the ball, but it went off his foot and into the net for the lone goal of the game.
From there, Andover pressured Tewksbury, and actually had a goal called back on a throw-in that wasn't touched. But to no avail, the Redmen clung on, playing solid defense throughout the entire 80 minutes.
"I thought the kids really dug deep today," he said. "After the Central loss, we talked about redemption and about improving as a team. I thought we had played pretty good in some of the earlier games, but we just ran into some bad luck. Today we did what we needed to do to win, survive and keep our playoff chances alive. We can now move forward, build off this game and get ready for Haverhill on Saturday. The seniors know that we can lose one game from here on out, but we can't lose two. We have tough away games with Dracut and Billerica, but I believe we have what it takes to get on a roll, but we have to play like we did today. We managed to win today. It was a big character test for us and I'm really proud of them."
The day before the Andover game, Tewksbury played Somerville in an "exclusion game" meaning it didn't count towards the team's overall record.
"There wasn't a JV game, so I decided to bring up a lot of the JV players and I held out our usual ten starters because I wanted them fresh for today's game because I knew that we had a chance to win," said Burns. "It worked out in our favor."
Tewksbury lost that game 7-0, but again it didn't count.
In the loss to Central, the Redmen were leading 2-1 and playing a very solid first 40 minutes, the complete opposite happened in the final 40 minutes with Central scoring five goals, four coming in a 20 minute stretch to lead the Raiders to a 6-4 victory.
"We just stopped playing and I don’t know (what happened in the second half)," Burns said after the loss. "I don’t know why they just gave up. We were winning and it was just the second game this year that we were ahead at halftime and we haven’t won either one of them.
"Almost every game that we have played this year was like the first half we played today. They have all been close, whether we were winning or losing, the games were always close. The second half was a debacle out there. You give up four goals in twenty minutes and five in the second half! Then we scored two late goals in the end, and it just magnifies (giving up five in the second half) even more."
Before the ugly defeat, Tewksbury was coming off a 3-1 win over Methuen and a 2-1 loss to Chelmsford, and like those two games, Central was a winnable game. And it was through the first 40 minutes as the Redmen had the 2-1 lead behind goals from LaLonde from Pat DeMelo, before Central did Tewksbury a favor with an own goal coming off a shot from DeMelo.
The lead didn't last long in the second half. Central scored two goals in the first ten minutes — missing another chance with a shot going off the crossbar — then added another two goals over the next nine minutes to go up 5-2. DeMelo scored on a penalty kick with five minutes left in the game, and then both teams exchanged single goals in the next four minutes, including DeMelo notching a hat trick, netting one from a corner kick.
Tewksbury will be back in action with home games on Saturday and Monday morning against Haverhill and Auburn, both 10:00 am starts, before going to Billerica on Tuesday afternoon.
"If we can beat Haverhill and Auburn, we then have Billerica, who we haven't beaten I think in four years and in nine straight games," said Burns. "That will obviously be tough because it's away, but if we get Haverhill and Auburn, we'll have some momentum on our side and see what happens. After that we have Lawrence, who we should beat so if we can get going on a roll here, I think we really would have a shot of qualifying."