Since there’s no high school football season this fall, the Town Crier has been publishing archived game stories of old WHS Football games, matching up the current week’s game. Below is the week nine game from the Town Crier November 17th, 2004 issue.
The Wildcats in dramatic fashion, overcame a big fourth quarter deficit and defeated North Andover to capture the Cape Ann League Championship title and advance to the playoffs for the just the second time in program history, 1976 as the other.
NORTH ANDOVER – In the box score you can see that the Wilmington High School football team had two blocked punts, didn't complete a single pass all game, and gave up a season high 334 total yards of offense.
Outside the big box, you can see that the Wildcat football team won its third dramatic game in four weeks, the second straight game on the final or next to final play of the game, and came from behind with 20 points in the third quarter.
In the big picture, the three fourth quarter scores by Zack Mayo, the huge 25-yard field goal by Greg Stewart – the team's first of the season – the two big defensive interceptions, and the missed field goal by North Andover with 14 seconds remaining in the game, was enough to have the Wildcat football team accomplish something the previous 27 teams couldn't do.
On Sunday afternoon with the sun shining down on the gorgeous North Andover High School turf field, the 'Cats polished off its league schedule with a thrilling 30-29 victory over the Scarlet Knights, who had to beat the 'Cats and Masconomet to advance to the post-season for the first time since 1996.
Instead, the tremendous grit and perseverance by the Wildcat team pushed them into the playoffs for the first time since 1976 with its 10-0 season.
“Let me tell you something. I wouldn't trade these kids for anybody. They are the best kids in the world,” he said. “That game was all about heart. If you can find me kids with more guts than the kids I coach, I dare you to. Everything went against them. Give North Andover all of the credit because they took it to us but our kids refused to be denied. I give our kids all of the credit.
“That's a great (North Andover) team. We beat them best, we had to beat the best and we had to beat the top three teams in the league (to win the Cape Ann League championship title) and we did in three of the last four weeks of the season. And you know what? We won some big games now. We're 10-0 and we beat three of the top four teams in the league the past four weeks.”
Wilmington trailed 23-10 after the third quarter and 29-17 with 8:14 to go in the game, but came out victorious when Tyler Smith's 31-yard field goal try with 14 seconds to go sailed short and wide right, allowing Joe Herra to take a knee before his team could celebrate with the biggest league victory in 28 years.
“We had to (score 20 points in the fourth quarter) unfortunately because (North Andover) kept coming back,” said Almeida. “We didn't complete a pass all game and we struggled throwing the ball. You have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line and guys like Stephen Downs and Robbie Gillis.
“And how about Zack Mayo? He's a pretty good back. He hasn't got quite the credit he deserves but he was just immense, absolutely immense today. Our defense played hard and our pass defense gave up some yards, but when it really counted, Joe Herra came up with a big play.
“This was an unbelievable football game with two great teams. But it's our turn. I would think this was as good of a high school football game as you'll find. It's a credit to our kids who never stopped believing. They never did and I keep saying every week that I would not trade them for anybody. Not for anybody.”
North Andover took a 10-0 lead just two plays into the second quarter. Smith nailed a 22-yard field goal in the first quarter, and then Ryan Reading blocked his second punt off the foot of Sean Murphy just seconds into the second quarter. The ball bounced into the end zone and North Andover's Chris Holland pounced on it for the touchdown.
Herra (168 return yards on five kickoff returns, a punt, and an interception return) followed as he returned the ensuing kickoff to the 'Cats 42. On the first play from scrimmage, senior captain Robbie Gillis took an inside hand-off and went up the middle before making a nice cut back move on his last defender, to go for an 58-yard touchdown run making it 10-7 after Stewart's PAT kick was good.
“The linemen made the big hole and I just took it from there,” said Gillis.
North Andover (7-3) answered right back. The Knights put together a 10-play, 71-yard drive which was capped off by Josh Iovanella's 1-yard run on third-and-goal making it 17-7 with 5:16 to go in the half. Stewart came up with a huge 25-yard field goal on Wilmington's ensuing drive making it 17-10 and more importantly, the 'Cats trailed by just one score instead of two heading into the locker room for the halftime break.
Both teams were forced to punt as the third quarter began, and North Andover was able to make it a two-score lead when quarterback Scott Driscoll (9-for-23, 203 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) connected with Dan Ok for a 13-yard TD strike in the left portion of the end zone. The PAT kick missed, which was crucial in the end, as North Andover had a 23-10 lead with 3:22 to go in the third quarter.
Wilmington turned the ball over, but the defense forced North Andover to go three-and-out which was also another huge key in the final outcome. That's because the offense was able to have enough time to do what it did so impressively in the fourth quarter. On just seven offensive plays, the 'Cats scored three touchdowns, all by junior back Zack Mayo (9-70, 3 TDs). On just the third play in the fourth quarter, and on first down for the 'Cats, he went 29 yards which was set up by a 37-yard kickoff return by Herra.
It took three plays after Mayo's first touchdown for North Andover to counter. Driscoll connected deep to Andrew Foote (29 carries, 129 yards) and he went in for a 68-yard touchdown reception. The two-point conversion rush failed and North Andover led 29-17 with 8:14 left in the game.
Again Herra put the 'Cats in great field position with a 33-yard kickoff return to the 'Cats 45. On the third play, Mayo went off left tackle and scored on another 29-yard touchdown run. Stewart's kick was good and Wilmington now trailed by five at 29-24 with 6:50 remaining in the game.
Facing third-and-nine from its own 34, Driscoll went back in the pocket and tossed his first of two interceptions in the fourth quarter, this one picked by Herra at the NA 39 and he returned it to the six yard line. Three plays later on third-and-goal, Mayo went in for third touchdown of the quarter, this one from five yards out for the game winning score.
Zack's brother Joe intercepted Driscoll on third down giving the 'Cats the ball just short of midfield. That came after a 14-yard sack by captain Brennan Jones on Driscoll.
“The whole game I was going outside on him. I saw him drop back and I cut up inside. I was able to grab him from behind as he didn't see me.”
Wilmington was forced to go three-and-out and North Andover had one last try to score and win the game. Having the ball on its own 44 with 1:37 to go, the Knights managed three first downs and completed four passes to move the ball to the Wilmington 14. Facing fourth-and-four with 14 seconds left, Smith's field goal try went wide.
The ‘Cats then stood on the field knowing they won the program's first solo Cape Ann League Championship title, and third in all, while becoming the first team to go undefeated in the league.