BILLERICA — In the first half of Friday night's game, the Tewksbury Memorial High School Redmen football team were not playing their best. But one player who certainly was playing his best was sophomore Danny Fleming, who on defense, made a handful of tackles — several big ones — to keep the deficit close, as Billerica had a 14-7 lead at the break.
In the second half, Tewksbury responded and played much better as a team. Senior Tyler Keough came up with two monstrous plays, a 48-yard reception on a flee-flicker and then a 58-yard punt return.
On top of that was an even better second half from Fleming, who scored a touchdown, had an interception and that came after pouncing on a fumble in the first half.
The two-way player as a tight end/safety, finished the night with a 20-yard TD reception, three carries for 15 yards, and defensively, he made double digit tackles, as well as having the two turnovers. He was immense all night helping Tewksbury with its fourth quarter come from behind, 32-14 victory over the Indians played at the Marshall Middle School.
"Danny is a kid who has been on the horizon for us for several years now and we knew that he was going to be a pretty special player," said Tewksbury head coach Brian Aylward. "To do what he did tonight, in a time that we really needed someone to step up, was immense, especially in the first half. He was all over the place making a lot of tackles."
Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Tewksbury needed to refocus before the second half started. Fleming was asked what was said between the coaches and players during the break.
"We just said that we had to pick it up," he said. "It was a one score game and we knew that we weren’t out of it. We just had to work until we couldn’t work anymore. We just had to give it everything that we had on this field and we had to pull this one out, especially against Billerica and in Billerica.
"We came out slow the last couple of weeks, but today we came up with a stop on their first opening drive which is always good. Defensively, we just all worked as a unit, but when we got together at halftime and the coaches talked to us and made some adjustments, it all came together and all worked."
Just a few seconds after Keough's 58-yard punt return gave the Redmen offense the ball at the Billerica 22, on a delay pass from quarterback Ryne Rametta, Fleming found himself wide open in the flat area, hoping the ball would be thrown to him.
"I came through the hole and I got jammed up by the back," he described. "We were going at it for a second, but when I broke away from him, everyone was gone so I hit the corner route and no one was there. From there I just had to make sure I caught it and got into the end zone. It seemed like forever that was the ball was in the air. I was waiting and waiting and finally I grabbed it."
He did catch it and easily raced into the end zone for his first varsity touchdown, as well as what proved to be the game winning score.
Three plays later, he almost found the end zone again. This time from his safety position on defense, he picked off a Nolan Houlihan pass around the Billerica 40 yard line and returned it 36 yards to the four, before being brought down.
"I dropped back and (Kyle) Darrigo had great coverage coming across and their quarterback had been overthrowing the ball," said Fleming. "It’s a tough rainy night and tough conditions, so he sailed this one (over the Billerica player’s head) and it went right to me. I knew I had to catch that one too and not drop it. I caught and I just tried to make a move to get to the end zone. I couldn’t get there, but I tried."
Fleming's teammate Kalu Olu then took the ball into the end zone on the ensuing play, and the rest if history.
"Danny's a tough kid and we will continue to place those high expectations on him," said Aylward. "It’s like that for every kid. Once we see that this is the best that they can give, we set a new bar for them and we try to keep that going with everyone thinking the same way."