TEWKSBURY – Although the system is flawed, like anything else in sports, if you have two great teams going head-to-head, the flaws are outweighed by the what you witness between the white lines.
On Saturday afternoon, the No. 2 seeded Tewksbury Redmen hosted the No. 7 seed Lynn English Bulldogs in the first round of the MIAA Division 3 North Sectional playoff tournament held over sunny skies at Doucette Field.
From the opening kick-off until the final play, this was one tremendous football game played by both teams. The Redmen were the ones who pulled out the victory, and certainly, especially in this loaded bracket, this one wasn't easy.
Tewksbury leads of 24-14 and 31-14, only to see Lynn English score the game's final two touchdowns to cut the deficit to three points with 3:13 left. But Michael Kelly covered up the onside kick, and the Redmen managed two first downs and ran out the clock to come away with a close 31-28 victory.
The win improves Tewksbury to 7-1 overall, and more importantly, the Redmen stay alive in the bracket and will host the No. 3 seed Concord-Carlisle on Saturday back home at 1 pm.
The Patriots are 8-0 and are coming off a convincing 28-0 win over Beverly, a team that was among the favorites to come out of the section, but were decimated by injuries to players in skilled positions.
"We try to be in this tournament every year – every single year," said coach Brian Aylward. "So if it may look like that at the start, we don't just junk our seniors and go with the young guys and rebuild for four years from now. For us, it's about kids having their opportunity and just try to fight and get us into the tournament and that's what we did today."
Tewksbury had a number of fantastic performances across the board. Senior Tyler Keough had 189 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown. Junior Kyle Darrigo rushed for 120 yards and had two touchdowns.
Also, junior quarterback Ryne Rametta completed 6-of-10 passes for 127 yards with two TD passes, one to Keough, and another one to senior tight end Richard Markwarth, who like Keough made a fantastic play for the score.
Additionally, Riley Auth, Darrigo and Jake Kaiser came up with huge defensive plays at critical times. The offensive line was very good throughout the game, helping the Redmen come up with 359 total yards of offense.
The special teams was outstanding, including a successful double pass on a kick-off with Keough gaining 35 yards on his run. The tackling was good all day, and the coaching was near brilliant – the trick plays were timed and executed perfectly.
"I'm proud of our guys upfront (on the offensive line)," said Aylward. "That was a big, physical team and there were times when they were winning the battle of getting off the ball, and there were a couple of times defensively we tried to bone out what we were trying to do inside and they hurt us on stuff outside, the perimeter and the pass game.
“We just had to keep moving guys around and we had to put bodies in there to try to stop their offense."
Lynn English had some tremendous players, including monster fullback Sam Ofurie, who had 144 rushing yards on just 14 carries and was difficult to bring down throughout the game. Quarterback Mathias Fowler was electric with his arm and legs all game, including a gorgeous 84-yard TD strike to Tahj Purter, who also scored the team's final touchdown with 3:15 to go.
"They (Lynn English) have a lot of weapons," said Coach Aylward. "They are big, they are physical, they are not one dimensional. They can run the ball, they can throw the ball and you add in a quarterback who do both of those things, that's a tough combination. They are well coached and we have known that. We had to go out there and execute out stuff. We did enough of that today to stay in the tournament."
The teams exchanged touchdowns in the first quarter. Tewksbury jumped out first as Keough made a beautiful catch reaching high over his head to grab a 24-yarder from Rametta, and Fowler scored from 2 yards out for the Bulldogs.
Tewksbury then outscored LE 17-7 in the second quarter to take a 24-14 halftime lead. Markwarth did a nifty job keeping his feet (and toes) inside the back left of the end zone on a 9-yard pass from Rametta.
Lynn English countered as Tahj Purter scored on a 84-yard pass down the right sideline on a pass from Fowler. Tewksbury's Kyle Darrigo followed with a 5-yard TD run, before Keough booted his first field goal of the season, this one from 29 yards out.
On the first play from scrimmage to begin the third quarter, Rametta connected with Keough for a 51-yard completion and three plays later, Darrigo scored his second TD of the game making it 3-14 but with over 22 minutes left to play in the game.
The Bulldogs then countered with an impressive 17-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard run by Ofurie and mixed in was a successful fake punt play. The TD made it 31-28.
Then with five minutes left in the game, Lynn English started a drive from its own 18 and quickly moved the ball down field with Purter scoring on a 4-yard run cutting it to 31-28.
Kelley recovered the onside kick and Tewksbury ran out the clock to win the game.
"(We did have so many big plays)," answered Coach Aylward. "The interception stopped their flow, the double pass on the kick-off, the double pass on the third down, guys just fighting off the ball, Markwarth was spilling his guts for us all day and made that play on the touchdown, Owen Gilligan has done that for us all year long in two physical positions. Antonio Capelo did another great job today at center and that's where it all starts.
"We talked about not having any self-inflicted wounds and we did on our first drive with a lineman penalty which drives me bonkers, but at the same time I'm proud of these guys. This is their time. We talked about way back in week two I think. We had all of the fanfare of what guys did last year but that's all over with so we asked the kids, what kind of legacy do you want to leave?"
Tewksbury will now play Concord-Carlisle on Saturday and a win would put them in the North Final to face either Danvers on the road or Winchester back at Doucette.
"Concord-Carlisle is another program that is well-coached," said Aylward. "This is a deep section, even the teams that didn't advance to the bracket are tough and well-coached. We have our work cut out for us every single week. We're in a one week tournament and now we just have to make sure that we're ready to go for next week."