Since there’s no high school football season this fall, the Town Crier has been publishing archive game stories of old TMHS Football games, matching up the current week’s game. Below is the week four game from the October 5th, 2011 edition with the Redmen defeating Central Catholic It’s the last time Tewksbury defeated Central, losing the next two times.
That’s two down and one to go for the Tewksbury High School football team. After a squeamish, staggering start to their season, the Redmen are finding their sea-legs, even thrusting themselves into the thick of the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title chase after Saturday’s defensively impressive and offensively sporadic 21-6 victory over Lawrence Central Catholic at Doucette Field.
Tewksbury’s win — its first over Central since 2007 — sets up another interesting showdown Friday night at the 3-1 Billerica Indians, another ‘big school’ ready to be knocked down a peg or two — even after belting Dracut, 40-14 a week ago.
With the offense clicking in the face of some key penalties and frustrating drives and the defense playing its best game of the young season, the Redmen appear ready to give Billerica a real game Friday night. For now at least, Tewksbury is finished playing the role of decided underdog.
Saturday, a soggy field did nothing to slow down the Tewksbury running attack that was led by quarterback Kevin Saunders (10 rushes, 56 yards), running backs Chris Bettano (16-for-117 yards) and Dan Altavesta (5-for-46), along with impressive freshman fullback James Sullivan (4-for-13). Saunders even had his best passing game so far, completing 6-of-9 passes for 96 yards that included a 30-yard touchdown strike to diving senior receiver Frank McLaughlin.
While Saunders was solid offensively and defensively (an interception that sealed the victory), McLaughlin was the real revelation on this day, helping the TMHS attack to shift from downright one dimensional to potentially scary. Coach Brian Aylward talked afterwards about his quarterback-receiver combination in terms of current play and potential as this season progresses.
“I’m glad that he (McLaughlin) could make some catches that everybody could see, because he’s done it for two weeks in a row now where we’ve asked him to kind of muscle-up and take on the big, huge defensive ends and give us the corner on the short side of things. He has been awesome,” assessed Aylward.
As for Saunders, the coach sees his senior tri-captain as taking big strides in terms of confidence and how comfortable he has become in the new-look TMHS power-based offense.
“He is a team leader and a great kid,” praised the coach. “And, he is well-respected by teachers and other students. No one can question the kid’s toughness. When he is confident, he wears it on his sleeve. He was lacking some confidence over those first couple of weeks, and that’s readable by everybody on the team. We talked an awful lot about that. When he’s got that confidence mode, all of the other guys feed off of it.”
The team began the game by helping to feed Central the football via a turnover that led to the Red Raiders’ only touchdown in the first quarter. The Redmen fumbled on their 28, and two plays later Central quarterback Matt McDermott busted an option run around left end for a 22-yard touchdown run. Central missed on the PAT kick and later failed on a 30-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half, giving Tewksbury a 7-6 advantage.
That first TMHS’ touchdown in the second quarter was indicative of the offense adding some passing to the attack. A 40-yard flea-flicker from Saunders to McLaughlin set up an impressive 30-yard scoring strike to the senior receiver. Matt Blaisdell toed the first of his three PATS, and the Redmen led — thanks largely to the emergence of the gritty McLaughlin, whose route-running has greatly improved over the last two games.
“This is the greatest feeling,” offered McLaughlin. “It’s awesome man. We have a good group of kids and everyone’s fighting. Everyone on this team has a big heart. There are no limits for this team.”
There are also apparently no limits for McLaughlin, who not only shone on offense, but came up big in the defensive backfield as well. The talk was still about those catches and the touchdown.
“I just ran across the field, then got hit actually, and then just stayed focused and caught the ball. Our defense was lights-out today,” said McLaughlin.
That defense was so-lights out that it completely dimmed the bulbs of a Central offense that had looked so high-powered just one week ago under the direction of quarterback McDermott. The Raiders gained just 42 yards of total offense and finished with a paltry 120 yards for the game.
“That quarterback was like a magician last week,” said a more-than-relieved Aylward after the game. “I thought that we had our guys lined up in a position to play well today. We put it all together in a scheme that made sense, and the guys put some extra work in- and it was all worth it.”
The second half was all Tewksbury, as the defense turned it up a notch, while the offense would be looking at two more touchdowns were it not for the occasional sloppy play. If the Redmen can clean up some of those penalties and limit the turnovers, opponents could be in for some big trouble down the road.
Bettano took over the attack for long stretches of that second half, running the football 11 times for over 100 yards. The team rushed for over 200 yards in the second half and salted the game away with touchdown runs by Bettano (one yard) and Altavesta (33-yard bolt) respectively in the third and fourth quarters. In the third quarter, Bettano’s speed took over again as he set up his own touchdown with a 21-yard blazer right to the Central Catholic goal-line.
The fourth quarter 70-yard touchdown drive was highlighted by Bettano’s 36-yard run before Altavesta offered a nice change of pace by breaking away for the game’s final touchdown. Coach Aylward appeared to be channeling Yogi Berra when he summed up just why his team had scored two impressive victories over supposedly bigger and better opponents.
“We’ve gotten to where we are because of where we were,” offered the coach. “Scrimmages are for learning what you can’t do, and usually we find that out. This year it was kind of funky. We moved the ball in both scrimmages and then we ran into an outstanding defensive team in Lincoln-Sudbury. We learned a lot from those first two weeks. The coaches have stayed positive and our leaders have stayed positive. We learned from the things we can’t do little bits at a time. We gave up our weekly turnovers as well. I don’t know how we keep doing it. We’ve got to finish stuff.”
All of that ‘stuff’ just might need to be imperatively cleaned up at Billerica Friday, as the Indians undoubtedly will be geared up to stop the TMHS’ running game and strip the football. The attitude in Tewksbury is that the team is winning and is still far removed from playing error-free football. That doesn’t mean that the squad collectively isn’t having a big bunch of fun.
“They like playing with each other, they work hard and they are going to work hard when we play Billerica,” said Aylward. “We have learned about the kinds of things that we couldn’t do — what our limits were. We’ve gone back to some of our old-school basics. Every kid was from Tewksbury today, and we got it done.”