BILLERICA, Mass. -- At some point, opposing teams and players are going to have to figure out how to keep Billerica junior Matt Clifford from hurting them.
Add Tewksbury to the list of teams he’s torched.
For the second week in a row, the wide receiver/defensive back had a huge night on offense, defense and special teams, scoring all three touchdowns in Billerica’s 20-14 win over Tewksbury in a Merrimack Valley Conference crossover game.
Clifford caught two touchdown passes, returned a kickoff for a score and also made an interception, putting up nearly 300 all-purpose yards. His 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter -- his second kick return for a touchdown in as many weeks -- swung the momentum back in the hosts’ favor and completed the scoring as the Indians improved to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the MVC.
Tewksbury fell to 2-3 and 2-2.
“Like I said last week, we were great out here,” Clifford said. “Great coaching. We were a little up and down (in the) first half. Second half we came around.”
Tewksbury, coming off consecutive wins over MVC Large opponents Andover and Central Catholic, showed grit and ingenuity after losing starting quarterback Kevin Saunders to injury. Running back Chris Bettano (15 carries, 122 yards) had a successful night on the ground, and the Redmen expertly executed two trick plays in the first half, but in the end Clifford and Billerica had a few more weapons.
Some other quick thoughts on this entertaining contest...
No secondary concerns: Billerica has been solid in the defensive backfield the past two weeks. In addition to Clifford, the Indians also got some huge plays from Nick LaSpada (209 yards passing, 2 TDs), Cam Slatton and Jason Ferri. First, Slatton batted away a sure touchdown pass near the left pylon on fourth down to deny Tewksbury from the Billerica 9-yard line at the end of the first half. Then, in the fourth quarter, Ferri dropped Bettano for a 6-yard loss to force a punt. LaSpada then helped seal the win with an interception on Tewksbury’s last possession. It was the second straight week LaSpada and Clifford each had an interception.
On the 'Mike': Friday night showcased two of the top middle linebackers in the MVC in Billerica’s Brian Thompson and Tewksbury’s Derek Tarpey. Each plays with a high football IQ and hits with authority. Tarpey made a big interception of LaSpada in the third quarter to set up a James Sullivan 22-yard touchdown run and Thompson simply made running between the tackles a difficult task for the Redmen for most of the night.
Thompson is listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds; and although Tarpey’s measurements are not listed, he looks around the same. Each plays with that mixture of intelligence and tenacity you look for in a middle linebacker and strike a little bit of fear in opposing ball-carriers.
Redmen keep you guessing: Good luck trying to game plan for Tewksbury’s offense. The Redmen showed a variety of looks and found ways to move the ball in almost every one. The Redmen lined up in everything from the single-wing to the I to the spread and you could almost never figure out exactly what was coming based on formation. Tewksbury scored on a 19-yard reverse pass from Frankie McLaughlin to Kevin Saunders and hit a 63-yard lateral pass from Dean Alves to James Sullivan, both in the first half.
When Saunders went down to injury, the Redmen used two backup quarterbacks -- sophomore Johnny Aylward and junior Zak DiRocco -- in the second half. Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward always seems to have a trick up his sleeve, and it’s very difficult to game plan for everything he throws at you.
BILLERICA 20, TEWKSBURY 14
TEW (2-3) 0 6 8 0 --- 14
BIL (4-1) 0 7 13 0 --- 20
T - Kevin Saunders 19 pass from Frankie McLaughlin (kick failed)
B - Matt Clifford 78 pass from Nick LaSpada (Steven Trask kick)
B - Clifford 43 pass from LaSpada (Trask kick)
T - James Sullivan 22 run (Chris Bettano pass from Zak DiRocco)
B - Clifford 91 kickoff return (kick failed)