TEWKSBURY — In the previous two meetings against North Andover, Tewksbury had been outscored 75-36. Facing the defending Division 2 state champions at home on Saturday afternoon was certainly not going to be an easy task, especially with the Redmen having a few injuries. That being said, Tewksbury needed all hands on deck to come away with the win.
That they did.
The Redmen received a large handful of terrific individual performances and as a unit, were pretty strong — minus a few bumps — throughout the game and came away with a 34-20 victory over the Scarlet Knights, which not only avenged the previous two games, but pushed Tewksbury's record to 3-1 overall. That in itself is pretty incredible considering the first four games were against three Division 1 teams and the reigning D2 state champions.
The obvious star of the game was senior Shane Aylward, who scored three touchdowns and totaled 231 all-purpose yards, including a 90-yard kick-off return to open the game, before adding what proved to the game winning score on a 79-yarder in the third quarter. However, as well as he played, the team's offensive and defensive lines were much improved, while players like Owen Gilligan, Stephen Arsenault, Nolan Timmons, Billy McKay and the Fleming Brothers are just a few of the names who played fantastic throughout the 48 minutes.
"That's a great (North Andover) team over there and they will certainly be in the mix of things (come playoff time)," said Redmen head coach Brian Aylward. "We have to get guys healthy and fight on, but that's a heck of a win against a great program.
"Today was about guys grinding it out. We had so many different guys stepping in and making plays. Shane definitely had a couple of really big plays and I'm not going to discount those, but when we had to buckle down on defense in the second half, we dug deep. And really, we had to buckle down on defense late in the first half and that was big. The clock wasn't on their side as they had already used their timeouts and we had to prevent the big play and we were able to do that and that was huge."
Shane Aylward opened the game up with his 90-yard kick-off return and after that the two teams exchanged scoring punches. North Andover's Sebastian Vente caught a 16-yard pass from Will Schimoeller and then right before the first quarter ended, Aylward scored his second TD on a 5-yard run.
North Andover's Freddy Gabin responded with a 7-yard run, only to see Kyle Darrigo answer the bell with a 3-yard score. Tyler Keough's PAT kick (his second from five yards further out after a penalty) gave Tewksbury a 20-12 lead.
North Andover then had the ball with 1:37 left in the quarter. Starting from their own 32, the Scarlet Knights connected on four straight passes, and those combined 45 yards along with a facemask penalty against Tewksbury, moved the ball to the 9 yard line. Schimoeller then spiked the ball to kill the clock but in the new rules, that's a loss of downs and 10-yard penalty, so the ball was moved back to the 19.
On second-and-goal, Schimoeller was pressured by the Tewksbury defensive line and was forced to throw the ball away, ending the half with Tewksbury still ahead by eight points.
"I thought the (Tewksbury) kids on both (offensive and defensive) lines did a great job," said Coach Aylward. "I thought the sky was falling two weeks ago. I give our coaches a lot of credit because they got these guys fired up and those guys up front on both sides of the ball really grinded it out. It's a lot of the same kids, but it's a lot of them we rotate a lot of through there and every single one of them has a job to do and they went in there and got it done."
North Andover stormed out of the gates to open the third quarter, taking just five plays to score. After a 54-yard run by Freddy Gabin moved the chains to the Redmen 3, Schimoeller kept the ball on the next play and ran it in for the score and the conversion rush by Gabin was good to tie the game up at 20-20 with about 9:50 to go in the third.
Again when Tewksbury was knocked down, they got back up. Three plays later, after moving the ball 17 combined yards, only to come back ten because of separate five-yard penalties, Shane Aylward went nearly the length of the field again, scoring on a 79-yard TD run and Keough's boot made it 27-20.
North Andover wouldn't go away. The Scarlet Knights started the ensuing drive on its own 27 and moved the ball 16 yards to the 43. On second down, Dylan Chandler's hit on Vente kept the ball at the line of scrimmage. On the next play, the combination of Arsenault and McKay were able to knock Gabin back two yards. Now on fourth-and-seven, NA went to punt. The snap sailed over the punter's head, and now deep into NA territory, he was still able to get a punt off, but it was blocked and recovered by Gilligan at the NA 8 yard line.
"Gilligan has had a tremendous year (to this point)," said Coach Aylward. "He has played great in all four of our games. He's doing a lot of that dirty work on the edge. We put a lot of pressure on our defensive ends. We lost Richie Markwarth so we needed to get contributions from Robbie Kimtis at defensive end and also Matt Rosemond, guys who are chomping at the bit to get out there and contribute. Today they went out there and made stuff happen."
With a golden chance to put the game away, Tewksbury couldn't convert from the 8 yard line after three running plays and an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Then with 11:39 left in the game, still 27-20, Tewksbury did put the game away putting together a 9-play, 57-yard scoring drive capped off when QB Ryne Rametta threw a perfect spiral to the left end zone to Timmons, who made a gorgeous over the shoulder catch from 26 yards out. Keough's kick was good to put the exclamation point on the 34-20 victory and improve to 3-1 before three more games come up with MVC D2 opponents Billerica, Chelmsford and Dracut.
"I'm very happy (to be 3-1)," said Coach Aylward. "These guys work their tails off especially with the kinds of things that we ask them to do. The work ethic from everybody — they are doing what their coaches are asking them to do and like any program, when that happens, you're going to get better. If they learn from their mistakes, if they learn from their losses and they are humbled with their wins, they are going to get better.
“We have to stay on pace and keep getting better, week in and week out, and we'll start focusing in on Billerica tonight. They are hot with two big wins (over Bishop Feehan and Dracut). They looked great (on Friday night against Dracut) so we'll get started on that."
Shane Aylward led the ground attack with 130 yards on just five carries, while, the combination of Darrigo and Kalu Olu was also extremely effective. Darrigo finished with 59 yards and a score and Olu had 61 yards. Tewksbury ended up having 33 running plays and just four passing plays and the Coach was asked if that was by design.
"I'm not sure what we're really good at right now," he answered. "We are still learning about what guys can do. They stepped up today and did that so if it isn't broken, don't fix it. (The running game) was really working today and we came out of that and Ryne made a couple of throws. He had the touchdown, but I thought he came through with a big first down earlier in the game and that prevented them from loading up on the stuff that we were doing inside (with the run).
"Kyle Darrigo, I can't say enough about what he did today. He really ran hard. Kalu ran great and he ran hard. He is getting better and better the more experience that he gets. We try to simplify things for him because he is still kind of new to it, but he did a great job and he held onto the ball and kept his legs running.
"And Pat Fleming is a kid who is just selfless. He goes in there and works hard all day long, just mashing linebackers and I give him a ton of credit for what he did today."